Six organizations that work with Somali youth in Minnesota have been awarded $300,000 in grants as part of a federal pilot project designed to combat terrorism, the nonprofit group that is administering the funds announced Thursday.
The grant recipients include a youth sports group, a program that empowers Somali parents, an organization that plans to enhance youth employment opportunities and a group that addresses mental health issues for refugees. An additional $100,000 has been set aside to help with technical assistance, professional development and other resources with the goal of keeping the programs going on their own in the future.
Marcus Pope, director of partnerships and external relations for Youthprise, the nonprofit administering the money, said investing in youth development is crucial. He said Minnesota is home to many creative and bright Somali youth, but many of them face "formidable challenges, including a sense of alienation, a search for identity as new immigrants, unemployment and poverty that can open them to recruitment by extremist groups."
Boston and Los Angeles are also participating in the federal pilot project, which the Obama administration launched in late 2014 to stamp out violent extremism.
Minneapolis' program, called Building Community Resilience, focuses on the state's large Somali community, which has been a target for terrorism recruiters. More than 22 men have left the state since 2007 to join al-Shabab in Somalia, and roughly a dozen people have left in recent years to join militants in Syria.
"We are excited that Youthprise has identified the first group of organizations to which it will make grants," said Ben Petok, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota. "This is an important milestone for the hundreds of Somali community leaders and volunteers who have worked on this effort for the past 18 months."
Last month, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said he was working on additional funding, both federal and private. He pointed to a bill President Barack Obama signed into law in December that includes $50 million for efforts that combat terrorism as a possible source. Luger noted that $10 million of that appropriation is specifically for states' efforts to prevent violent extremism, though it's not yet known how much of that money will flow to Minnesota.
In a parallel effort, Minnesota lawmakers have also allocated $250,000 to programs designed to combat terror recruiting. The Department of Public Safety announced last month that it will soon start the process of awarding grants, with priority given to programs that will lead to long-term investment in communities most at risk. Meanwhile, House Democrats have also announced that they'll push for another $2 million to dedicate to combatting terrorism in Minnesota.
Here's a list of the groups that received the one-year grants:
• Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota received $100,000 to enhance employment and educational opportunities for young Somalis. The program partners with a local mosque, the city and public school systems.
• Somali American Parent Association received $85,000 to partner with the youth group Ka Joog to implement a program that will engage young people, parents and families.
• Shanta Link received $35,000 to partner with African Immigration Community Services to address the stigma of mental illness among refugees.
• Ummah Project and its partner received $30,000 to train Somali-Americans ages 18 to 25 to work as mediators and restorative justice facilitators.
• Africa Reconciliation and Development Organization Inc. received $25,000 to prevent conflict in African diasporas. Funding will be directed to reconciliation programs, soccer and Somali arts classes for male students, ages 13 to 18.
• West Bank Athletic Club received $25,000 to conduct youth sports activities and hold communication sessions with parents.
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