Community groups compete for turn-back funds

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October 4th, 2011

Omaha, NE – For the past three years, community groups in north and south Omaha have competed for city-funded grants to preserve historic areas and provide positive outlets for at-risk youth. And for south Omaha, this year’s application process started last week. Angel Martin stopped by one community center in the neighborhood that hopes to expand with the new funds.

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At the Victory Boxing Club in South Omaha, a little over a dozen kids are hanging out in the teen center – some playing pool, others playing video games. Robert Ibarra is the volunteer youth leader. He grew up in California and says he’s no stranger to trouble on the streets. But he says after finding God, he changed his life and now gives back to the community by working with at-risk youth.

“Things like this,” he said, “having a positive environment … to be a light to the kids, and just try to teach them different, as opposed to what the streets got to offer.”

The Victory Boxing Club in south Omaha is one of several groups applying for grant funding this year through the city’s turn-back tax program. Introduced by the Nebraska Legislature, the turn-back tax is a provision that allows ten percent of sales tax revenue generated from the city-financed Century Link Center to be directed to areas in Omaha with high levels of poverty.

The Victory Boxing Club opened in south Omaha in 2005 to be a "safe haven" for Omaha's youth. (Photo courtesy Victory Boxing Club)

Omaha city councilmember Garry Gernandt is one of the three committee members who help decide which groups are awarded money. He says each year community groups seem to get more and more creative.

“We wanted to see if we could get new blood into the system,” he said at the first public meeting to begin the application process held last week. “And we’re going to continue doing that for the 2012 grant.”

Under the direction of this committee, the funds will be distributed to non-profit groups with projects highlighting historic aspects of the area, or to projects aimed toward reducing street or gang violence in the area.

“We probably have our unfair share of street and gang violence,” Gernandt said. “But as long as we keep doing innovative programs, being creative, keeping adults and young people working together, and the faith community, all partnering and collaborating together, we’ll have a better city.”

This year, groups in south Omaha will be awarded $120,000, and groups in north Omaha will be awarded $126,000. Last year, Gernandt says 21 applications were submitted and 17 were funded. Groups selected to receive grants will be notified on December 15th.

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