Member Snapshot Blog

Member Name: Marcel Scaife


Title: Manager, Safe and Thriving Communities Ready By 21

 St. Louis at United Way of Greater St. Louis


Name of partnership, coalition, or collective impact initiative:

St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission


What is your effort trying to achieve?

To work to reduce violent crime in the region by promoting and advocating for policies and a coordinated, well-resourced support system and interventions among area governments, institutions and agencies that serve individuals and families most at risk of violent crime.

In any coalition or partnership, we know that engaging partners who are most impacted by the work and the issue is a critical step. But engagement takes time, trial and error, and a lot of love. Ask Marcel Scaife who is Manager, Safe and Thriving Communities Ready By 21 St. Louis at United Way of Greater St. Louis. Marcel led youth engagement efforts to inform the Youth Violence Prevention Partnership Strategic Plan. Not only did the youth engagement efforts inform the strategic steps of the plan, but it also helped build relationships amongst youth and the YVPP staff and partners.

The YVPP is working to ensure that all youth in St. Louis are safe from gun and gang violence. To inform these efforts, over the summer of 2018, Marcel and his team led about 10 youth cafes reaching over 100 kids. Modeled after Project Launch’s Parent Cafés, Marcel partnered with STL Youth Jobs to hire one summer intern who coordinated the cafes. He then hired other facilitators who were recommended by partners to lead conversations with other youth around root issues of violence and potential solutions. Along the way, Marcel learned some helpful lessons.

One lesson was – you never know what might be a root issue. You can analyze and analyze a problem, but until you start to listen closely, you may miss key factors. For example, one concern that emerged from the Cafes was young people’s concerns about the number of stray dogs in the neighborhood. This was an issue not previously considered until the issue was highlighted via the Cafes. Or for example, the need for more accessible out of school time opportunities, such as longer hours and better transportation to recreational and sports/community centers.

The Cafes offered young people a chance to propose solutions that they wanted to be involved in. For example, the need for more positive connections with the police department led to a partnership with the library where police officers read to kids. This is still in the planning stage, but cultivating relationships with local police departments is important. A partnership with Mission St. Louis helped build youth musical and entrepreneurial skills through recording time in a music studio. Young people had the chance to share their message through a rap project and connect over pizza in exchange for staying in school.

In addition to a strategic plan that reflected the voice and creativity of St. Louis youth, Marcel experienced an additional take-away. He got to see and support youth taking on community leadership. As they went through the Café training, the youth leaders were apprehensive and concerned. Marcel and his team offered a scaffolded approach that helped them take on more and more responsibilities. By the end of the 10 sessions, the youth facilitators were leading on their own, and supporting each other in taking on more challenging roles in order to get the work done.

Marcel continues to support the growth and development of the young people he met through this process. As with any work we care about, the relationships that emerge are essential. For Marcel, this work is personal. There are no boundaries to violence. Systems change work is hard and complex, but knowing the young people that he is working for and why violence prevention is important to them is what keeps him going when things get challenging. Plus knowing that you don’t have all the answers allows you to take the risk of asking questions and being open to what emerges, even if unexpected. And that one reason why partnerships can be so powerful – because they make room for the input and expertise and wisdom that allows for more possibilities than any one individual or organization could imagine on their own.

When asked what advice he had for other coalitions and partnerships looking to engage youth, Marcel responded: “Rely on your partners. We don’t directly serve youth, so we needed depend on our partners who do. Our partners reminded us that we needed to engage LGBTQ youth. They reminded us that we need to show up where youth are showing up. They provided space for the Cafes and helped us get the data we needed for our federal grant. We couldn’t have done this without them.”