Yesterday, I had the chance to sit down and have a cup of coffee with three members of a group I’d never heard of before, but I’m glad I do now.
They make up the leadership of Running Rebels, a 32-year-old vision of its founder, Victor Barnett. Along with his co-executive director and wife, Dawn, this publicly and privately funded group has helped thousands of Milwaukee kids at risk of gun violence.
Of course, the timing for meeting this group wasn’t coincidental. Today, Running Rebels’ Development and Marketing Coordinator Heather Aldrich kicked off an edgy marketing campaign centered around the slogan, "I can stop a speeding bullet."
It really is a success story that more Milwaukeeans should know about.
"My vision is to take the front line and try to connect it to the right resources," says Victor Barnett. "Milwaukee has always been a city where people care and want to fix problems. We have a really good opportunity to do that."
Alrdich says the Serve Marketing built the creative, and now it’s time to get the word out. "My job is to bring awareness, to tell the dozens of stories. You can’t fund programs that you don’t know about."
Indeed, the group has flown a little under the radar, but each year, Running Rebels helps about 2,500 intensively monitored students, many of whom have been court-ordered to join in lieu of juvenile detention. The others are voluntary sign ups, and Running Rebels helps through job training, basketball and other programs created to straighten kids out.
Dawn Barnett told me the one-year program has an incredible 80 percent success rate for youths 10-21, and many of the Running Rebels graduates remain in the program, in some way, for life.
"We have prevention and intervention programs," says Aldrich. "Gun violence is something that does get peoples’ attention, and if that’s the best way for us to bring attention to the organization, then we’ll do that."
"I can stop a speeding bullet doesn’t just mean to physically stop a speeding but, but I can intervene on something that will become a violent situation," says Dawn Barnett.
Adds her husband, "If we don’t work with those young people on the front end, they will be the ones doing the shooting. Now they’re getting jobs and being successful."
The benefits to the community are obvious, but Running Rebels also saves Milwaukee County substantial money – more than $60 million that would be spent on attempting to house and rehabilitate non-violent young prisoners. That means the group makes fiscal sense, but it still needs volunteers and funding for the recreation department to keep kids in the program long after it’s officially over.
"Just the basics are funded, "says Dawn Barnett. "But we never give just the basics. We’re available to them all the time."
The success stories speak for themselves, so you should give a look to the YouTube video below. These are mentors who started out as chronic lawbreakers, and without Running Rebels, they’d probably be incarcerated today.
Similarly, the ads are designed to get peoples’ attention. "The stakes are too high not to," says Aldrich.
Still, says Victor Barnett, "There are a lot of people who haven’t heard of us or don’t understand it enough to give it a chance to work on a bigger scale. If we were able to get to the level we want to, we can make a difference."
I know now that Running Rebels is a great group that could use a well-deserved hand. It’s making Milwaukee a safer place, breaking the chain of violence and giving kids a second chance. That’s a cause we can all get behind.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Andy Tarnoff
Published April 6, 2015
Something weird happened to me around the beginning August last year: I started wanting the Brewers season to be over.
Published April 3, 2015
Here are seven recent Brewers pitchers that I would love to get back. Even if these weren't necessarily the best players, they each brought something special to the crew.
Published April 2, 2015
In a time when Zappos and Amazon and brick-and-mortar sporting good chains have cemented their spot as go-to places for running shoes and apparel, you might not think that starting a local running store would be a sound business idea. Don't tell that to Jessica and Trae Hoepner, the owners of Performance Running Outfitters, a business that started with one humble store and expanded to three, with a fourth in the works.
Published March 19, 2015
My 18th annual Brewers Spring Training trip is now complete, and I'm back in chilly Milwaukee, which actually feels a little better after a few days under the beating hot sun of the desert. This trip was a good one. A really good one. New experiences, old friends and lots and lots of baseball. But you probably know about all that if you read my blog entries this week.
Published March 18, 2015
When I left off yesterday, I was feeling tan, rested and ready for baseball, and we made the 30-minute drive from Talking Stick Resort to Peoria Stadium a little before noon. Brewers fans were out in force for the game against the Padres. St. Patty's Day revelry was in full effect.
Published March 17, 2015
I've said this before, but sometimes Spring Training feels a lot like the movie "Groundhog Day." Events, games and trips tend to run together, because with only a few variations, you're basically doing the same thing every day (and of course, that's a very good thing). But yesterday, we did something that we've only done one other time in 18 years: we didn't go to a Brewers game.
Published March 16, 2015
When you've been awake for 24 consecutive hours, due to an early flight, a time change and the excitement of an 18th consecutive Spring Training trip to Arizona, it's understandable to make a few bad decisions. Fortunately, the only one I regret is that humungous carne asada burrito from Filiberto's at 2 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, before collapsing into a few hours of sleep at the Talking Stick Resort here in Scottsdale.
Published March 10, 2015
Every year - since 1998 - I've made the trip to Arizona to watch the Brewers get ready for a long, long season of baseball. It's my favorite work/fun trip (edging out even Las Vegas) that I get to take, but with all the fun and sun in the desert, it's surprisingly easy to forget to pay attention to the baseball on the field.
Published March 9, 2015
Mequon native Tom Wachs knew he wanted to be a meteorologist a young age. After working in several smaller markets, he returned to his home last year, and even in a tough, demanding job, he's loving every minute of it. We caught up with Wachs to talk tornados, technology, and what it was like to dress up as a clown at his last job.
Published March 4, 2015
When Brewers fans talk to me about Spring Training, I always see the same look in their eyes. "I've always wanted to do that," they say wistfully, like Arizona exists in some far-away land, where you sit right next to the field and talk to the players in between in innings. Well, actually, most of that's true. Except for the far-away land part.