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Private Foundations Try Nibbling at Crime

As a trainee at Boston City Hospital, Deborah Prothrow-Stith was always reacting to crimes: binding limbs and treating wounds. She wasn't in a position to stop violence before it happened.

That has all changed now. Today, she is a leading figure in a burgeoning violence-prevention movement - one that has brought inventive new partners into the crime-fighting fray.

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Increasingly, private foundations previously interested mainly in public health have branched out to buttress law enforcement. "People have realized that preventing crime and lowering crime are not only the jobs of the police," says John Calhoun, director of the National Crime Prevention Council in Washington.

For Dr. Prothrow-Stith, the change came about one night in the Boston hospital. She had just finished treating a gunshot victim when the young man told her not to go to bed, because he was going to send the boy who shot him to the hospital next.

"It struck me then," she says, "that we didn't have a violence-prevention protocol. Stitching people up and sending them out again without taking any responsibility just didn't seem consistent with everything I'd been taught."

Prothrow-Stith has since been a major player in bringing the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston into violence prevention. This school, as well as other prominent foundations like the Carnegie corporation have helped bring a new focus to violence prevention. The result: A whirlwind of small-scale projects has sprung up nationwide. Largely because of private funding, these programs are able to take bigger risks than their government-funded counterparts, says Christopher Stone, director of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York.

In Santa Barbara, Calif., the Pro-Youth Coalition is teaching parents how to get involved in keeping their 10 to 14 year-olds from choosing a life of crime. In New Haven, Conn., the SAFE Haven program is one of the country's only violence-prevention projects to be organized and led by youths.

Only a few years ago, programs like these would have likely never made it off the drawing board. But today, the programs have given groups the ability to experiment and try untested violence-prevention theories.

The growth of these innovative programs has been paralleled by a similar growth in donations. Money given to crime, justice, and legal services grew by nearly $30,000 between 1993 and 1994, according to the Foundation Center, a New York-based group that tracks philanthropic giving.

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But the institutions that have become involved overwhelmingly say they did so simply because there was an urgent need. Luba Lynch got her wake-up call when Headstart teachers began asking her foundation to help them deal with grieving children. Ms. Lynch, the director of the A.L. Mailman Family Foundation in White Plains, N.Y., says the requests were troubling.

"In some communities violence had become a part of daily life," she says. "We realized we had to do something that was different from our regular grantmaking."

In addition to funding the Headstart program for teachers, Lynch decided to try something bigger than her small foundation could take on. So she and David Nee - then with the Ittleson Foundation in New York - began talking with grantmakers they knew in New York and California. Lynch says those foundations were experiencing the same problem - crime was getting in the way of their work. Eventually, 160 foundations came together for a conference on the subject. Out of that 1994 gathering came the National Funding Collaborative on Violence Prevention.

One of the most striking examples of organizations crossing over to curb violence, the National Funding Collaborative on Violence Prevention comprises 20 private funders and two federal agencies. It is providing financial and administrative help to 11 locally based projects from Michigan to California - including the Pro-Youth Coalition and SAFE Haven. "I see us as being a part of many different voices and many different efforts that have in recent years tried to do something about violence," Lynch says. "The value is in having each initiative grow up on its own."

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