Twenty-five Rochester men now Peacemaker fellows

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – What will it take to get our gun violence emergency under control? Does connecting shooters with resources and paying them not to shoot work? 

The City of Rochester is hoping it might. The Peacemaker Fellowship Program has now been fully underway in Rochester for about 3 months. 

Twenty-five men under the age of 30 who live in the city of Rochester and who’ve either been the shooter or the person shot are now enrolled in the program as fellows. 

“These are individuals [who] had previously been living in the shadows now wanting to make changes in their lives and step away from the street lifestyle and they now have someone to help navigate that,” explains Vic Saunders, Mayor Malik Evans’ special advisor on violence prevention programs. 

Each fellow has been assigned an “elder” who he has access to 24/7.

“Who else to be able to tell you about the lifestyle if they haven’t lived it and these are credible messengers who definitely have lived that life and who have built that relationship with an individual that otherwise is not engageable,” Saunders said. 

The five elders, who are now city employees, have all spent time in prison for gun crimes and have since changed their lives. Now, they’re hoping to help the fellows do the same.

“We have guys coming to us who are still suffering from gunshot wounds but would make it a point to make sure they got a ride to get here because they need it for the soul,” Saunders said. 

Some of the fellows are actually affiliated with different gangs in Rochester.

“We have individuals from rival sides [who] have had to come to peace in this building and even during meetings have separated themselves to take a walk and have a discussion about listen what’s most important,“ Saunders shared. “We have a trip to the slave museum slated in Alabama for next year and we have fellows who haven’t always gotten along, but they’re gonna be taking this trip together and it’s going to be transformational.”

The fellows are paid between $500-$1,000 per month while they work toward meeting specific goals.  Goals include getting a GED, taking job training courses, signing up for healthcare coverage, and showing up to meetings with their elder and with the group. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke: “Have any of the fellows so far been involved in shootings?

Victor Saunders: “We haven’t had any recurrence and guys seem really happier, they seem like a weight has been lifted that they don’t feel the same pressure they would have previously.  A lot of them are still dealing with some residuals as far as issues they might’ve had in the community previously but now they have someone that advocates on their behalf.  If that begins to percolate or become a bigger problem they have somebody that can have the wherewithal to be able to put their ear to the streets and make contact with the individual and foster that conversation before it turns violent.”

While the program is still essentially brand new, Saunders says he’s grateful the elders were able to recruit 25 men to participate and is hopeful it will eventually help move the needle in our community.