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Calif. Foundation Creates Center To Help Curb Youth Violence

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The California Wellness Foundation has awarded a $1.35 million grant to establish a center aimed at curbing violence among young Americans.

The Pacific Center for Violence Prevention will be based at an existing nonprofit organization, the Trauma Foundation of San Francisco General Hospital.

The center will be the hub of a five-year, $24 million anti-violence initiative launched by the Wellness Foundation last December. Its components include community fellowships for leaders of local violence-prevention programs and academic fellowships in violence prevention at several California universities.

"For an initiative of this size and with its complexity we needed a central coordinating point ... and a real central information-resource base,'' said Gary Yates, the senior program officer at the Wellness Foundation.

The foundation was created last year when the nonprofit Health Net health-maintenance organization changed itself into a for-profit company. Based in Woodland Hills, Calif., it has an endowment of some $300 million and majority stock ownership in the Health Net corporation.

The center is the brainchild of a committee convened by the foundation last summer that was comprised of violence-prevention experts and members of communities affected by violence, Mr. Yates said.

'Breeding Grounds' for Violence

The center will provide training to community organizations and serve as an information clearinghouse on violence prevention for journalists and policymakers.

The foundation plans to award $1.35 million in general support to the center in each of the next five years.

The center will approach youth violence from a public-health, rather than a criminal-justice, perspective, explained Andrew McGuire, its newly appointed director. Mr. McGuire also will continue to serve as the executive director of the Trauma Foundation, an arm of San Francisco General's trauma center that, in his words, is devoted to doing "whatever can keep people from coming to a trauma center.''

The center's goals include reducing the availability of alcohol and drugs to young people, for example by raising alcohol taxes; reducing the availability of handguns; and promoting alternatives to incarceration for young people convicted of crimes.

"Our prisons and jails ... are just breeding grounds for more violence,'' Mr. McGuire said. "We've had a spending spree in California on building prisons in the last decade.''

He said the center "would like to see a spending spree in the other direction,'' in the form of increased funding for Head Start, public schools, and social programs that address the root causes of violence.

Comparing the rising tide of violence to a severe epidemic, literature about the initiative observes that young people are disproportionately represented both among the perpetrators and the victims of violence.

It notes that homicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, and that nearly half of the estimated 4.2 million nonfatal violent crimes in 1989 were committed by persons between the ages of 12 and 24.

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