The Campaign for a Drug Free Westside (CFDFW) last Friday received a $25,000 state grant for its work in fighting against illegal drug use in the community.

Presented by state Rep. Karen Yarbrough during a ceremony at the Campaign’s headquarters, 5947 W. Madison, the donation is both a gesture of appreciation for the organization’s nearly 17 years of service, and a funding source for the group’s new ex-offender pilot program.

The pilot program, expected to begin within the next few months, will offer outreach to ex-offenders during the evening hours where most of the current programs offered by other groups operate mostly during the day, said Kelly Moore, the Campaign’s executive director.

“Those men and women who are incarcerated learn about our program prior to their release, and their parole agent will give us their information,” he said. “We will follow their progress after their release, make sure they have the proper resources regarding housing and job placement, and give them the assistance they need regardless of hours.”

Rep. Yarbrough spoke at length about visiting the Menard Correctional Facility in down-state Illinois and being disheartened by the number of youth she spoke with who were there for drug-related offenses.

“They lived in cells no bigger than the average bathroom, and nearly 70 percent of all that I spoke to were their on a possession conviction,” she said. “We need programs such as the CFDFW to do the needed ‘front-end work’ and reach out to the children before they alter their futures in such an irreparable way.”

Yarbrough said there is currently $1.4 billion allocated in the state budget for dealing with corrections.

“Today, I want to be a part of the expansion of programs that will help stem the tide of recidivism and juvenile delinquency,” Yarbrough said last Friday. “By putting more funds into organizations like CFDFW we start to place more of an emphasis on prevention and intervention rather than simply incarceration, and that is an important step.”

Arewa Karen Winters, project director of prisoner re-entry for the Westside Health

Authority and youth prevention specialist with the Bobby E. Wright Center, who attended last Thursday’s ceremony, noted the importance of prevention programs by such groups as the Campaign and her organizations.

“It is very fitting that I should be here,” she said. “We both want to reach out to at-risk individuals in the community, and we both share a vision of giving ex-offenders a second chance to rebuild their lives.”

The Campaign for a Drug-Free Westside Inc. opened in 1989 as a collaboration of several West Side outreach organizations, including the African-American Police League and the Garfield Counseling Center. Its primary function was to address the ever-increasing drug epidemic on the West Side.

“Before I became the director here I worked with Westside Association for Community Action (WACA) for four years, and I have always been a devout believer in doing what it takes to build up the West Side,” said C.B. Johnson, the Campaign’s founder, last Friday.

Johnson was appointed by a committee of the partnering organizations to oversee the Campaign.

The idea, he pointed out, was to focus primarily on the youth, through alcohol and substance prevention education, mentoring and encouraging greater parental involvement.

The belief, he noted, was that prevention could have a more long-lasting effect.

“I’ve lived here all my life and I believe in the community,” said Johnson. “In my 35 years in Austin, that belief has never wavered and I feel that any positive change must come from the inside; from those dedicated enough to do it.”

Following last Friday’s presentation, those in attendance were entertained by a performance from CIA, a quartet of three sisters and a cousin, and winners of BET’s “Young & Gifted” competition last March.