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How do you help communities rise? In cities across the country, this is a question many civic leaders are debating, and it was a question the city of Fairfield grappled with several years ago when they decided to take a stand against violence and help their city’s neediest residents.

380187_10151760373695181_1929628724_nAs is true in cities across the country, and even the globe, there were neighborhoods where gangs ruled the corners and people who lived there were just trying to survive. These were places of last resort for families, and the kids who called these neighborhoods home were failing in school, and even joining these same gangs that were causing such harm in their neighborhoods.

When community leaders and residents got together to try and solve this problem, they knew they were never going to “arrest their way out of crime,” as our board chain, Joe Allio, says.  (Joe is also Fairfield’s Chief of Police.) The solutions needed to start much sooner, before the problems began. So they came up with an idea: The Leaven.

Our mission is to help struggling students before they fall so far behind in school that they lose hope of ever catching up. By helping kids succeed in elementary school, we are setting them up for a lifetime of potential.

It is believed that kids who are strong readers are more likely to not just graduate high school, but go to college. They are less likely to drop out of school and join gangs, and less likely to go to prison. And it’s already working. In one of our neighborhoods in Fairfield, crime is down 63% since our program began.

This success is a true team effort. Schools and teachers are working hard to provide the best education they can go right here. Churches are reaching out to neighbors to help lift them up. Police and fire officials are working within the community to help every citizen feel safe.  And city officials are working with residents to address the specific needs of each community.

By rallying together, citizens can take back their communities from the gangs so that children can grow up in healthy, safe neighborhoods. And when we help kids and communities rise, the places where we live benefit, too.