For over 20 years, Campaign for a Drug Free Westside, located at 304 N. Central Ave., has had an impact on inner-city youth and provided numerous programs to achieve their goal. Richard Wilkins, the organization’s newest program coordinator, talked recently with the Austin Weekly News about his time at the CFDFW, the community and the organization’s for future changes within the community.
Before this position, what was your former occupation?
I worked with Cease Fire for six years. I was an outreach worker for a couple of years and served as a violence interrupter for four years, with people in East Garfield, Maywood, and Austin. I have been doing community work basically.
What are some of the things you and the organization have done in the past?
Well, the organization itself has been here for over 20 years, serving the needs of the community. We have had assistance programs such as CEDA here, AIDS prevention programs and other types of programs. This organization is about prevention. Our community is ravaged through crime, and we have a recovery support program. It was the government’s initiative to bring it back to the community.
I was brought in with my previous history with Cease Fire to help implement the recovery initiative, like bringing awareness about gun violence. Growing up in this community I created social capital because I am a product from here, so I bring in a lot of outreach skills. People here don’t usually walk up and knock and say they’re looking for help. You have to go out there and get the people.
Does being a product of the community help you understand the mindset of youth in the community?
I was once that kid, standing out on the corner, so I understand there is a certain set of skills where I can connect and have conversations with them and they will understand. There has been a disconnection in communication in our community; we stopped talking to one another. Because of that breakdown, we have these problems such as the violence. If people don’t talk, they don’t have a connection, which makes it easier for violence to start. I am currently at Northeastern Illinois University taking up inner-city studies, and this helps me be more effective in the community. I try to tell them that education is the key, but you cannot sell that to everybody. I show them with proper education that they can make informed choices.
I’m am currently working with 10 young men in the recovery program, helping them get their lives together – like helping them get free IDs and helping them with skill building. We recently had a summer job program where we hired 16 youth. This is another example of how we are impacting the youth.
How do you feel about the Austin YMCA and how will this organization play a role after its reported closing?
We had an after-school program in the summer and we’ll be starting it back up in the fall. We have 35 people registered. With the closing of the Y, we might be pulling in numerous more because I’m sure there will be youth with no place to go. Now you will have kids out there looking for something to do. We get moms every day who come in to inquire and sign them up. But we won’t be able to facilitate all of them because there are a high number of kids out there and we can facilitate about 50. The question of transportation comes in as well. As a community, we have to come together and figure out how we are going to address this issue. At least the YMCA provided a safe environment for parents who depend on their child-care program. Now they can’t focus at work because they are worrying about their child’s well-being, so we need places like that here.
How can people get in touch with you about upcoming programs and services?
I’m here Monday through Friday, 9-5. We also have a website that’s still under construction, but it’s up. I’m open to anyone who walks through the door.