Just when it seemed things couldn’t get much worse for the cash-strapped CeaseFire, the Rockford anti-violence group is losing its leader.
Just when it seemed things couldn’t get much worse for cash-strapped CeaseFire, the struggling anti-violence group is losing its leader.
Director Willie Ashford said Tuesday he will step down as head of CeaseFire to take the reins of a new violence-prevention group, Not One Life to Lose Safety Network, which targets the city’s youths.
Ashford’s move marks the next step in the steady decline of CeaseFire, once regarded as a vital tool in violence prevention. Before its state funding dried up last year, the group staged vigils for every shooting victim in Rockford, and outreach workers roamed the streets nightly in search of brewing trouble.
Now the group’s future remains uncertain and it has not named a new director, Ashford said. Ashford was the only person working out of CeaseFire’s office before his departure.
“Right now, it’s stagnant,” Ashford said of the program, adding that he’s keeping “fingers and toes crossed” for state money in the future.
Ashford served as director for only about 10 months and said he’ll remain connected with CeaseFire by working with its parent organization Hands That Help. Ashford replaced the Rev. Ralph Hawthorne, who resigned the post in June.
CeaseFire’s “Gangbuster” program, which aims to thwart gang activity in schools, will exist through the safety network, which received $250,000 from the state this month.
The newly formed group is made up of a host of community leaders who say the key to stopping violence is helping the city’s youths. The network includes members of the Rockford Police Department, the Winnebago County Health Department, social services organization La Voz Latina, and several churches and neighborhood groups. The network will operate from the 61101 to 61104 ZIP codes, where members perceive crime and dropout rates are the highest.
Ashford said the group still needs to determine exactly what its activities will be. Its goals include linking 12- to 24-year-olds to mentorship and career opportunities, teaching them nonviolent conflict resolution, providing crisis intervention and improving police-community relations.
“I believe this program is going to further CeaseFire’s mission,” Ashford said. “The door is wide open for us to be really creative.”
Sadie Gurman can be reached at 815-987-1389 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.