Gun Issue Highlights Potawatomi Charity
Potawatomi touts new charity program, and Barrett laments killing of kids.
At a press conference yesterday, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino announced some positive changes in its program of charitable contributions, but comments made by Mayor Tom Barrett about gun violence offered a far edgier message.
Potawatomi officials announced that their “Miracle on Canal Street” program is changing its name, to “Heart of Canal Street,” and will feature a “Charity of Choice,” a charity that partners with the casino and receives the first $100,000 raised each funding season. The first Charity of Choice, it was announced, will be the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board. The funds will go into the organization’s pilot program, Youth Works MKE, which will work to reduce gun violence in Milwaukee through year-long youth programs. Another 30 charities will also receive funding from the Potawatomi program, as all money after the first $100,000 raised will be distributed equally among them.
Barrett’s remarks came during a year when gun violence has been a big problem, as evidenced by the many recorded shootings in the city this year. The mayor recounted how he felt after receiving a message from the police that a 14-year-old was shot during the evening fireworks on July 3rd and after he received another message a few days later that a 13-year-old was shot dead in his kitchen by a 15-year-old. “Many of you are probably parents. You can’t imagine this, [that] you lost your… 14-year-old boy who was at the fireworks,” said Barrett.
“The questions that go through my mind are first, where are these kids getting these guns? Which is a really, really serious question. But what’s happening in our city and our society when these teenagers are losing their lives, or are seriously wounded because of this?” Barrett asked.
The comments related to the Potawatomi’s first Charity of Choice, the Youth Works MKE program, whose proponents hope it will help lead participants away from crime and violence with guns. The program places at-risk youth in year-round subsidized jobs and supportive services. Earl Buford, Chief Executive Officer of the Workforce Investment Board, which is creating the new program, said it will include mentoring and “essential skills of workforce — preparing you for your first job, helping you to stay successful in that job, and also build other pathways into it.” The program also features a psychological assessment of youths to help evaluate what will help each participant succeed in their job and overcome any barriers to success. Buford noted that more than 2,500 individuals applied for only 1,300 job slots.
The program is based on the successful One Summer Plus, a Chicago-based program for youth and young adults that pairs part-time summer jobs with cognitive therapy-based programming. One Summer Plus is responsible for a 51 percent reduction in the participants’ violent-crime arrests seven months after completing the program, according to the press release by Heart of Canal Street. The program will also complement Barrett’s Earn and Learn program, which gives youth and young adults the opportunity to work with companies around the city and gain real-life experience in the field.
“Everybody in this room, every single one of us, remembers our first job,” Barrett said. “You remember somebody gave you a chance. Somebody believed in you. But there are kids in our community that don’t have that chance. And we have to break that cycle, and find ways that they understand that we believe in them. And that’s the purpose of this program.”
During his speech, Barrett also thanked the casino not only for fundraising the program, but for being “the most diverse workforce of any employer, I believe, in the state. They walk the walk, and they talk the talk at the same time.” They feel a strong obligation to give back to the community and help organizations and individuals who need their help, Barrett added.
The Heart of Canal Street program began in 1994 and has raised over $14.6 million for hundreds of organizations since then. The program was formed as a way of continuing the Potawatomi tradition of “nurturing younger generations so they grow to lead healthy, productive lives,” according to the press release by Heart of Canal Street. Funds are raised throughout the funding season between August and December via special bingo events, beverage specials, a special poker tournament and other events. At yesterday’s announcement meeting, patrons were able to contribute by participating in mini-golf games and a silent auction for prizes like jerseys signed by members of the Milwaukee Admirals.
The casino decided to change the name of the program from Miracle on Canal Street to Heart of Canal Street because “our heart has always been in the center of our giving and now it’s in our name,” said Renee Kirnberger, Public Affairs Manager of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.
The Workforce Investment Board’s Youth Works MKE program was selected as the “Charity of Choice” through talking to the community and asking what are the most critical and emerging issues affecting youth in Milwaukee. Kirnberger secured proposals from five different organizations and, as a committee, they voted on one of them.
Of the other 30 charities, 10 of them are partnered with media partners. Each of the 10 media partners get to select a charity who receives funding. Other charities go through an application process and 20 are randomly selected in November to receive funding.