The Village of Reading (TVOR), a non-profit in Reading, PA, was founded three years ago with a mission to curb gun violence in the city through outreach to Reading youth and communities impacted by gun violence. What started with local teen nights at The American Legion is now poised to become a lifeline to youth across the city. An influx of grant funding and key community partnerships is helping TVOR build up youth through thoughtful, innovative programming, grassroots outreach to Reading neighborhoods and a collaborative approach to reducing violence.
Reading, PA, like many cities across the country, has suffered from an uptick in violence in recent years, with a slew of gun-related homicides including the shooting of a young 17 year old woman in Reading in 2021 making the news. TVOR, led by Radarra McLendon, has been quietly working to end gun violence behind the scenes since 2019. Now that the nonprofit has received a total of $211,300 in grant funding from the state and local community organizations, TVOR is ready for growth, and not a moment too soon. This money will help the organization hire dedicated staff, develop outreach initiatives and implement four innovative violence prevention programs in Reading as early as this spring.
“A village that stands together builds together,” says TVOR Founder and Director Radarra McLendon. “With this new funding we are now able to devote more resources to our community, to work with community partners and to serve the best interests of the young people in our community.”
A $5,000 grant from The United Way has helped the organization with overhead costs to set up an office to devote full-time to community outreach and implementing programs. An additional local grant of $8,390 from the Community General Hospital Healthcare Fund of the Berks County Community Foundation is being put toward a Non Violent Norming Support Group for Reading youth between the ages of 13 and 18. This program will provide an opportunity for youth to interact in a safe setting to discuss specific situations of violence that occur in their communities and strategies to respond to those situations in a non-violent way. It will build on each young person’s individual strength and resilience through age appropriate activities to boost mental wellbeing. The program will work through Reading School District and in partnership with Berks Nature.
TVOR also received a Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency grant from the state of Pennsylvania totaling $198,000. This grant will allow TVOR to hire a staff including a full-time director, a part-time office assistant and two part-time violence interrupters. The violence interrupters will be reformed gang members or ex-convicts who will participate in community outreach and canvassing to build relationships with the community and act as a mediator for young people in violence prevention strategies and to support the mission of TVOR.
“With this PCCD funding we can grow to become a youth community resource hub, serving the young people of our community,” says McLendon. “We want to be able to provide young people here in Reading with anything they need, and we hope to develop a network of community partners organized around this mission of building up our youth and dismantling gun violence in the process.”
A gun violence survivor herself, McLendon is all too familiar with the support it takes to help young people who grow up surrounded by violence. McLendon lost her beloved cousin, Desmond Hammond, to gun violence in 2018 and her grandfather died by gun suicide when she was a toddler. Like many people who grew up in Reading, she has also lost friends, neighbors and classmates to gun violence. A high school dropout and single mother, McLendon is an empathetic leader who knows firsthand the challenges faced by youth growing up with violence in their communities and a lack of opportunities for connection and support. She has devoted herself to community advocacy, volunteering with a local chapter of Moms Demand Action and spearheading The Village’s Teen Nights at the American Legion before founding TVOR.
TVOR has also announced its Board of Directors, a panel of four community leaders who will help guide the organization as it grows to meet the demands of the community and to help shepherd the grant funding to benefit the organization’s mission. The board of directors will include Tonya Butler, a magisterial district judge and experienced attorney; Lizette Epps, local businesswoman and community advocate; James Beidler, accountant and genealogy expert and Cheryl Davis, Assistant Principal at Reading High School.