by Len Lear
I’m not sure anyone could have a more daunting job than Chestnut Hill resident Richard Greenwald. Since March of 2013 Richard, 49, has been executive director and assistant to the mayor for youth violence prevention. Anyone who watches the 11 o’clock news knows how many young people in the inner city are killing others or being killed, seemingly on a daily basis.
“It is daunting and ambitious for Stoneleigh (Foundation) and Mayor Nutter to put themselves out there and say, ‘We will do something about this issue.’” Greenwald told us during a recent interview. “It is a long-term approach. This did not happen overnight, and it will not be solved overnight. We are looking at young people as assets, not as people we’re afraid of. The mayor is making it a high priority. I was hired to be the point man, so I am responsible for this.”
Stoneleigh Foundation, started in 2006 by philanthropists John and Chara Haas, is dedicated to young people at risk. John Charles Haas, who died in 2011 at the age of 92, was chairman of the global chemical company Rohm & Haas from 1974 to 1978. Haas was rich, but he got even richer when Rohm & Haas was sold to Dow Chemical Co. in 2009 for $15.3 billion. The four charitable trusts founded by the Haas family surged in value to $2.7 billion.
Stoneleigh Foundation, named for the Haas mansion in Villanova, tries to find people with expertise affecting young people and put them in a position to find solutions. The city asked them for help in youth violence prevention. President Obama had started a program to reduce youth violence, and Philly applied to be one of the 10 cities accepted into the program and was eventually accepted.
The mayor went to the Stoneleigh Foundation to find someone to lead the campaign to reduce youth violence, and they selected Greenwald, who previously worked for the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, for almost four years. “I helped Cory Booker (then the mayor of Newark, now a U.S. Senator from New Jersey) work on urban issues, welfare to work and personal reentry program in Newark,” Greenwald told us. “I was living in Philly but spending a lot of time in Newark. I had done reentry work for Mayor Nutter under a William Penn Foundation grant. I still teach at Columbia University.
“Even when I was growing up, I was always interested in public policy. When I wasn’t being a knucklehead, I was an activist. When I graduated (from Columbia University with an M.A. in public policy and administration), a friend in Memphis, where I grew up, said I should go to Washington, which I did. I was hired by Al Gore’s staff when he was a Tennessee senator. That was my first two years out of college.”
In the late 1990s, Richard became the first president and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia-based Transitional Work Corporation (TWC). Under his leadership, TWC grew four-fold, employed more than 14,000 welfare recipients, and participated in a rigorous Department of Health and Human Services evaluation. Richard also served as vice president at America Works, a nationally recognized New York City-based private company that places and supports welfare recipients in jobs.
The youth violence prevention campaign started in December of 2012, when the city got its grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, and Greenwald came on board four months later. “We made a decision to test one area of the city,” he explained, “the 22nd Police District in North Philly, 10th to 33rd Streets, Poplar to Lehigh. It has churches and Temple University but also poverty, high unemployment and a high degree of violence. It’s a place-based approach. I think we are moving in the right direction. We have gotten probation officers, cops and behavioral health people working together, all with a shared vision and core goal (of bringing down youth violence).
“Crime did go down in the city in 2013. Youth violence went down. A slight decline in North Philly. Stoneleigh is getting people to dive in on the big issue. I take satisfaction in that. Have we saved a life? Could we do more? I have driven around with police. Once we came upon a kid who had just been shot. We’re getting good at a quick response in that situation. Of course, we have a lot of practice. I feel good about what we are doing, but there is still so much to be done.
“But if we don’t do it, who will? There is a lack of youth being on track to be employed. We have less youth working now than at any time since World War 2. It takes a strong political will and courage to do this (campaign). The general public may not know about Stoneleigh, but people in City Hall all know about it. It is great, as is the woman who runs it (Cathy Weiss).”
On a much less controversial issue of living in Chestnut Hill, Greenwald insists, “I really like Chestnut Hill. It is like a village but still with an urban feel. I have four kids, and they have a lot of friends in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy. I like the fresh air and the convenience. We are close to the train. There is just so much to like.”
For more information, call 215-735-7080 or visit www.stoneleighfoundation.org.