UNA receives grant to reduce gun violence

UNA recently received a grant to establish a project that will focus on reducing gun crime in the 31 counties of the North Alabama district, said university officials.

Project HOPE, which stands for Helping Our Partners Excel, will be funded by a grant from the state in the amount of $272,939, which must be used by the project’s deadline of Sept. 30, 2012 or it will be returned to the state.

HOPE, which is directed by UNA’s Director of Continuing Studies and Outreach Lavonne Gatlin, will focus on three main areas: training existing law enforcement to better handle gun crimes, teaching 5th graders in Alabama’s North District about the dangers of gangs and gun crimes and establishing a system of support for released inmates to reduce their number of gun crimes.

“We are currently in the final stages of recruiting and hiring staffing for this project,” Gatlin said about the status of the project. “We now have to pull together the focus groups for this project. We’ll have at least four groups of focus groups for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, educators and citizens.”

According to Gatlin, at least four students of the Department of Criminal Justice at UNA will assist in creating and carrying out the curriculum on anti-gun violence to approximately 500 students in at least four different school systems in the district.

“This grant was awarded as a community grant,” said Director of Sponsored Programs Tanja Blackstone. “It’s largely to reduce gang and gun violence, so an advantage to students is a safer environment.”

Blackstone said her office administered the grant for Project HOPE, which included handling all administration forms, and will continue to help Gatlin with the project when needed.

“We assist with pretty much anything that comes after,” Blackstone said about the help that the Department of Sponsored Programs offers. “Sometimes they have extra money, so we help them determine how to spend it.”

Blackstone also said some parts of the project, including the fifth grade curriculm, will begin by March, though Gatlin said several parts of the project including who exactly will participate and where it will take place are still being decided by the Department of Justice.

“With this grant, we’re just trying to implement it,” Gatlin said. “Our goal is to just get this project underway. But with resources available here at UNA and all the people that support this program, (this is) why it’s going to be successful.”