Lansing Star staff writer
In a recent press release, Gateway Community Services announced that it will terminate its Violence Intervention and Prevention Program this month, due to a loss of funding. Gateway is currently funded through a Governor’s Discretionary Grant, but the grant ends this month.
“It has impacted so many kids in such a unique and positive way and I just think it’d be a real loss to the community,” said director of programs for Gateway Community Services Jennifer McMahon.
Gateway’s VIP program is an after-school program for children and teens in the Lansing area. The program started out in 2003 as part of another program, but has grown and become its own program. It is designed to help children deal with violence in a positive way. Jennifer Loforese, program coordinator, focuses on helping children address and deal with their emotions.
“A lot of the kids are not comfortable expressing their feelings verbally, but they open up really well with the projects that we work on,” Loforese said.
One of the ways Loforese gets students to address their emotions is through art therapy.
“The projects that they do, they start off thinking it’s something they can’t do and by they time they’re finished, they can’t believe they did it,” Loforese said.
One project Loforese has her students do is write and illustrate a book for first grade children, which they donate to libraries when finished. Another project they have done is decorating masks to show emotions. Each student picks one emotion to express and then the other students try and guess what emotion it is.
“It helps them to start to see what emotions look like through other people’s eyes,” Loforese said. “It gets them talking about what emotions look like to them and how they can really look different to someone else.”
Currently, students are working on video projects about bullying.
Students in the program have had their artwork displayed throughout the community. Some of their work was displayed at the capitol building in Lansing and some was featured in a traveling art show.
Loforese also tried using music to help her students express themselves. During one session she had a rap artist come into class and write a song for the program. Each student wrote his or her own line and recorded it, then the artist looped them into the song.
The students in Loforese’s program are typically referred to Gateway through their school or the court system. Most of the students are bullies, the target of bullies, or both.
“The youth that are referred to the program are generally youth that might be considered troublemakers or bullies or problem kids in the schools.” McMahon said.
Although some consider these children to be “bad kids,” Loforese said they are not treated as bad kids in her program.
“My kids in group are used to being defined by their worst actions, a lot of behavioral problems, but they don’t really hear that in the VIP project, they hear about how great they are and how much potential they have to change the world.”
Loforese is dedicated to her students and her program and says that even when the grant is up and the funds are gone, she will continue working. Gateway is also looking for funding to replace the grant that it has lost.
“We’re on the search; we’re looking for community support,” McMahon said. “We’re looking for long-term sustainable funding too. That’s the ultimate goal.”