GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — More than a dozen nonprofits and community members offered their visions Wednesday night on how to reduce violence in Grand Rapids.

After a summer marked by gun violence, the groups pitched their proposals to reduce crime to the city’s SAFE Task Force.

The task force awarded $10,000 to five groups — Hatchett Player Development, All Good Sports, We Matter Now, Community Kids and Puertas Abiertas — to make their visions a reality next spring and summer.

The task force wanted to focus on preventing young people from the ages of 12 to 24 from becoming involved in crime.

Ysasi said criminals in the area have become younger in the last few years, so they want to focus on early intervention.

“Trying to find solutions, to have that intervention earlier on,” SAFE Task Force co-chair Milinda Ysasi said. “How can we intervene during that time and try to create more positive social and emotional activities.”

One of the winners Wednesday night, Community Kids, is a Grand Rapids nonprofit dedicated to empowering youth and helping them become leaders. The organization provided mentoring for 60 kids last summer.

“I want to use my story to talk to the younger version of me and allow other young men and women or adults who’ve transformed their lives to use that transformation to help change our youth,” Jamar Sterling with Community Kids said. 

Sterling once served 18 years in prison. After he got out, he became the youth director for Community Kids. He wants to take the lessons he’s learned from his past to guide the next generation.

We Matter Now, another winner, is a collaborative effort between three West Michigan nonprofits.

In April, We Matter Now brought together 60 minority youth for a conference in Grand Rapids to guide young people to reach their full potential. The group follows up with the kids monthly.

Leaders say the $10,000 will help pay for the space for next year’s event and transportation.

“One of the things that we want to do is start with youth … really start to build that foundation for them, help them see something different,” said Dondrea Brown with We Matter Now. “I grew up seeing a lot of violence, so I struggled with, ‘Is this the norm? Is this the narrative that I want to continue to create?’ So one of the things that we wanted to do is shift that narrative and help our youth really see themselves not at risk but at potential.”

Multiple groups pitched getting kids involved in sports, including Jamell Hatchett with Hatchett Player Development, who goes into schools around the area to teach kids how to play basketball.

He said he’ll use the $10,000 he got through the task force to help him rent a space out and to hire more employees to train kids.

Hatchett said sports can give kids a sense of purpose, belonging and togetherness.

“It gives them that … being a part of something for one, to feel like they have a voice,” Hatchett said. “It builds character and discipline, those important traits.”

Ysasi says Wednesday night is only one step toward reducing violence in Grand Rapids. She wants all groups who came to the pitch night to continue to be a part of the conversation toward making Grand Rapids a safer and happier place to live. 

“We know that today is about not solving all the violence with one event, but making sure that there’s connection points to groups in our city, and to be actively talking about it now so that we can be prepared for our spring and summer time,” Ysasi said.