Pittsburgh anti-violence group broke, closes

| Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

A grassroots anti-violence group that gained traction as an organization the city and county often turned to for help has folded under economic hardship, its executive director said Wednesday.

One Vision One Life, a county-initiated group composed mostly of ex-criminals who worked to combat community violence, ran out of money and was forced to close, said Richard Garland, the former gang member from Philadelphia who started the group in 2004.

“It's the economy right now,” said Garland. “We had some groups pull funding and we don't have the funds to stay in business.”

The group claimed successes throughout the city, including for crime reductions in Homewood and Garfield, the North Side and Beltzhoover. One Vision One Life also hosted an annual four-week summer basketball academy in the North Side that helped keep kids off the streets.

“What they wanted to do was go out into the community and be ambassadors when there were critical events or situations that would cause concern or agitation,” said Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard, a board member of One Vision One Life. “They oftentimes were able to speak to people who were going through a bad time — a loved one got killed or there was going to potentially be some repercussion for an incident — and calm the waters.”

One Vision One Life got some city and county money during its run and received $350,000 from The Heinz Endowments between 2004 and 2006 through the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. Heinz awarded the group $200,000 more after One Vision One Life became a nonprofit in 2006. The Richard King Mellon Foundation was the top funder, but officials there could not be reached for comment.

One Vision One Life's public tax returns showed the group raised upward of $1 million a year between 2007 and 2009, but for the past few years its budget dropped to around $500,000, Garland said. He earned a salary of $105,000.

The organization's effectiveness deteriorated after the death last year of El Gray, a longtime community activist, and funding cuts forced Garland to lay off the remaining employees. At one point the organization had upward of 30 employees.

A study by the Rand Corporation in 2010 suggested the organization had little impact on crime between its inception and 2007.

“Things kind of fell apart and then they had become ineffective. We knew that they were experiencing difficulty. They were going through some financial problems,” Richard said.

The Rev. Ricky Burgess, a Pittsburgh City Council member, said One Vision One Life stopped submitting requests for funding, so the city did not renew their $75,000 contract when it expired on July 12.

Fred Thieman, president of The Buhl Foundation, awarded One Vision One Life $100,000 over two years a few years ago and $25,000 a few months ago to help it move its programs to other charities.

“It's unfortunate, but (their closing is) a sign of the times,” Thieman said. “I think it was a good program. I thought that Richard himself is a charismatic and important individual, but like many organizations, it's tough to bottle or institutionalize the energy of someone like Richard.”

Garland remains hopeful he can merge with a nonprofit partner to keep the group's mission going. He is working as an adjunct faculty member in the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work.

The Rev. Sheldon Stoudemire, a street minister in Clairton who worked for One Vision One Life in 2010, said he was saddened to hear about the program closing.

“There is literally a war going on in the streets,” he said. “One Vision One Life won a lot of battles.”

Staff writers Bill Zlatos and Rick Wills contributed to this report. Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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