By Casey Murray | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Pastor Les Simmons, shown during the announcement of local youth pop-ups in 2019, says organizations had come to know and understand the system under Sierra Health Foundation and it seemed things were working.

In 2018, Sacramento young people increasingly got into violent confrontations at Arden Fair Mall.

Community groups united to support youth by giving them something to do and someplace to be.

“We realized that recreation centers were closed during the holiday season, not open on Saturdays, and young people had no place to go,” said Chet Hewitt, president and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation. “We started the pop-up program, we branded the pop-up program, and for the first several months, we paid for the pop-up program ourselves.”

Sierra Health Foundation, a nonprofit that works with local organizations in northern California to promote health and racial equity, helped organize and fund the community pop-ups. After a few months, the city expressed interest in partnering with Sierra Health Foundation. It would help fund the pop-ups through Sierra Health Foundation, which would distribute that funding to smaller organizations to put on events as it had before the city’s involvement.

The pop-ups were considered a success. More than 2,200 have been conducted, with more than 100,000 attendees, according to Sierra Health Foundation.

The events were part of a much larger violence prevention strategy that activists say helped the city go without any youth homicides for more than two years, beginning in 2018.

But the city has alleged that Sierra Health Foundation has fallen out of compliance with requirements for receiving the funds, citing issues over financial reports. Sierra Health Foundation has adamantly refuted this claim, but because of the disagreement, the city decided to conduct pop-ups starting this summer instead of working through Sierra Health Foundation.

The sudden move meant some pop-up events were canceled. Some went on, but the individual organization made the decision to pay for it themselves. Some went on and Sierra Health Foundation footed the bill.

And now, how the pop-ups may ultimately be impacted and how organizations will work with the city moving forward still seems to be a point of confusion. 

Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth, an organization that has worked on community pop-ups since they started, said he has a good working relationship with both the city and Sierra Health Foundation, but that the change felt abrupt.

“We all thought we had a contract, and the next thing we know there’s an email saying effective immediately, no longer will Sierra Health Foundation [administer] the pop-ups, and so that kind of took everybody for a loop,” he said. “We were all expecting pop-up dollars to do summer programming and I just think that, for that, it wasn’t a smart and tactical move.”

Accius said he’s still not sure what happened between Sierra Health Foundation and the city and that he doesn’t know why the relationship was terminated, but that the shift left organizations like his in limbo.

The city said it would begin pop-ups in September. Some would take place over the summer as part of extended #SacYouthWorks funding, but many organizations believed summer events would have to go on without funds.

“The city in July will have sponsored 18 youth-oriented evening events, with a dozen of them hosted by seven community-based organizations that were former youth pop-up organizations,” Tim Swanson, media and communications manager for the city, said in an email.

Voice of Youth appeared on a list kept by the city of organizations to be reimbursed for some summer pop-ups. Accius said that was news to him.

“The city is in the process of developing contracts with these organizations for the summer events, and as part of those agreements, they will be reimbursed for their work in July and August,” Swanson confirmed.

Sierra Health Foundation has now announced that they will also continue putting on youth pop-ups without sponsorship from the city, partly in response to believing that the city has no plan to continue the events for the summer.

The confusion has made Accius more skeptical about the city’s leadership for future events.

“The city has, you know, has treated me fairly,” he said. “I just think that this was definitely an error on how to approach changing something that people have started to value, that started to make sense and that really worked.”

Accius is concerned partly because the rise and fall of funding seems to revolve around politics. The community started pop-up events, but isn’t in control of how much money is awarded to them. 

Les Simmons, the senior pastor at South Sacramento Christian Center who also works with Healing the Hood and the Black Child Legacy Campaign, echoed that concern.

“We’re going to be here when city officials leave or they term out, and we’re going to be here for the next ones. I’ve seen their cycle,” Simmons said. “I can go through many different scenarios where we came together through crisis, it was very effective, it worked, it continued to need enhancing, and then the city changed directions.”

He said organizations had come to know and understand the system under Sierra Health Foundation and it seemed things were working.

Sierra Health Foundation had functioned as an organizational hub for many local groups, including the pop-ups. Besides disseminated funding, Sierra Health Foundation also helped groups cooperatively address city violence, Simmons said. He also was involved in the original effort to start pop-ups.

“Ultimately, it’s going to hurt the community because you’ll feel it,” Simmons said. “You’ll feel the lack of all the organizations getting some support though funding. You’ll feel the lack of coordinating, the lack of communication — all those different things that play a role in how we all collectively come together to address community violence, because (Sierra Health Foundation) won’t be in place.”

Sierra Health Foundation also helps small organizations meet reporting and documentation requirements necessary to access grants to fund their work. Without Sierra Health Foundation’s involvement, some are concerned that small organizations will lose access to funds.

“I just think that they’re going to miss the ball on some spaces because a lot of these organizations don’t have the capacity to do some of the stuff that I think the city wants them to do,” Accius said.

Of course, the city no longer believes Sierra Health Foundation can meet reporting requirements on its own. Mario Lara, the assistant city manager, said the city would try to help groups with as many of the logistics as possible.

“We’re not asking anything more of the organization than Sierra Health Foundation would have required them to submit anyway,” Lara said. “We are going to make our staff available to assist as best as they can to help those organizations meet their requirements.”

The city will accept pop-up event proposals until Aug. 15. Organizations awarded funding will begin events in September.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Casey Murray is a Report For America Corp Member and a Data Reporter for The Sacramento OBSERVER. 

Casey Murray

Casey Murray