Plotting A New Course For The 'Peacemakers'
After a restructuring, the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance has a new director. Sharyna Cloud previously worked with Cleveland’s Community Relations Board, and had roles with the state Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. She takes over as former executive director Reggie Rucker resigned amid charges of mismanaging funds for the Peacemakers and another organization—he has since pled guilty to two federal counts.
The Peacemakers are now managed by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland. Ideastream's Tony Ganzer spoke to that organization’s president Ron Soeder about how the organizations will complement each other:
SOEDER: “We think that one of the things that needs to happen, is we need to provide the kids we are mentoring with opportunities to do positive things. When the Boys and Girls Clubs hours—noon to two—aren’t being used by our kids, then the kids that are not in school could come in here learn about entrepreneurial, about music production, and kind of expressing themselves. So I think there are assets the Boys and Girls Clubs has. We’re going to run it as a separate business. But we will take advantage of the assets, of buildings, and programs, and things like that, that we can apply. The other thing that I’ve asked Sharyna to do, is to develop a real menu of programs. I think some of these kids will have treatment issues, where we have to give them both behavioral health, and drug treatment. Two, if we’re gonna get them away from the crime and the street life, we’ve gotta have an alternative. So we’ve gotta develop their job skills, we’ve gotta find ways to give them jobs. And that takes something, because many of these young people we work with don’t have the literacy levels they need to get a job. But, you know what? They’re very smart.”
GANZER: “The Peacemakers Alliance were very visible, especially during the verdict of Michael Brelo—Patrolman Michael Brelo. Reggie Rucker was a very visible figure both with his work with that organization and in the city. How do you get over, maybe, a perception issue of the Peacemakers being if not corrupt, mismanaged? How do you prove to the community that this is a new step?”
SOEDER: “Sure, sure. Well I first of all I think it comes from this: talking to people openly, sharing a kind of process. And I’ll tell you from Boys and Girls Clubs’ standpoint, there are several requirements that we have. First of all, we have a governing board. Sharyna and myself may be running the organization, but we’re responsible six to seven times a year of getting together with our governing board, sharing financial statements. So there is a governing board.”
GANZER: “…deeper accountability.”
SOEDER: “Yes. Secondly, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and by its very nature will have to have an annual audit. We set it up as a separate company with its own financials, so it can’t get merged and buried into Boys and Girls Clubs’ accounting.”
GANZER: “It’s still fairly early with your direct management of the group, but have you see any push-back or pull-back, I guess, from people on the streets? What about investment in the…”
SOEDER: “Sure, I think that from December 15 until the hiring decisions were made, there were some feeling on the part of the people working on the street, ‘hey I’m gonna wait until this thing all settles out. Am I gonna get hired?’ I think they were doing the work because they love the work. They’re in the community, they’re invested in it, and many of them have done this work on a volunteer basis, and I respect everything they do. You know the whole idea when we started this was to professionalize the work of the outreach worker and the violence interrupter: give them a reasonable pay, make sure they have benefits, work with them on health care benefits, and retirement benefits. Well, what ended up happening, is we ended up saying—whoever the leadership was, saying—we have a hiring rate of about $33,000. That was being split up amongst a number of people. So you give 8 to this guy, you give 8 to this girl, you give 8 to this person, so you get a fourth of their attention. Where now, they’re working full-time for us. I’ve told folks, if you’re not going to work full-time for us, go run your domestic violence—go run your organization. We’ll be glad to partner with you, but when you join the group, you’re gonna be dedicated to the group because I’m gonna give you wages, I’m gonna pay for 80% of your healthcare, you’re gonna get an opportunity to get a pension. I may have less coverage, because I have full-time people, but I’ve got their heart, and I’ve got their mind. And I think I sense, there’s been an honest communications, and again I can’t speak of what was happening before, but I’ve often said don’t leave the room today until you’ve got everything off your chest. I may not be able to deal with it, I may not be able to give a straight answer, but I will find an answer and I’ll tell you. Ask the question, let’s make sure we’re transparent.”