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NFL reinvests in St. Pete’s innovative CALL program

Mark Parker



Kiera Garcia, a youth engagement specialist with Gulf Coast Jewish and Family Community Services (JFCS), helps prevent kids from having a negative interaction with the St. Petersburg Police Department. Photo by Ashley Morales.

A local nonprofit will receive funding and national recognition from the National Football League for a second time thanks to a unique partnership with the St. Petersburg Police Department.

The NFL recently announced a renewed commitment to its Inspire Change social justice initiative. League officials awarded over $4 million to 10 nonprofit organizations creating a measurable impact through four program pillars – education, economic advancement, community-police relations and criminal justice reform.

They selected Clearwater-based Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) as one of just three nationwide recipients in the community-police relations category. The organization will now receive a two-year, $450,000 grant to expand the Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) program’s youth services.

“It’s a unicorn of a project,” Dr. Sandra Braham, CEO of Gulf Coast JFCS, told the Catalyst. “I think it’s just one more example of how St. Pete is innovating and taking these calculated risks to be better – and be on the cutting edge of the future.”

Dr. Sandra Braham, CEO of Gulf Coast JFCS.

Unlike similar initiatives, the CALL program provides a compassionate civilian response to nonviolent 911 calls without accompanying officers. St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway has received state and national acclaim for his willingness to participate, and its effectiveness.

Gulf Coast JFCS’ social workers made 10,000 contacts in 2023. They also prevented nearly 500 youths from having a potentially life-altering experience with law enforcement.

The latter aspect is a direct result of the inaugural Inspire Change initiative. Gulf Coast JFCS created a youth engagement specialist (YES) position with its $200,000 grant, announced in December 2022.

Braham said she “could only hope” NFL officials noticed their success and renewed the much-needed funding. They did, and so did the players, league “legends” and team owners who comprise a Social Justice Committee and approved the awardees.

“People are blown away,” Braham said. “They’re especially amazed we are sending two people in civilian clothing that are not coming with guns and in a police uniform.”

Braham credited the relationships between neighborhood “gatekeepers,” community leaders and officers for the local success. She noted the program might not be a fit for every city.

However, she said the SPPD and Holloway have historically “done a great job” promoting transparency and building trust. Braham said the community has noticed Holloway remained true to his word to try something different following nationwide social unrest in the summer of 2020.

CALL launched as a limited pilot program in January 2021. It has since overcome some initial skepticism to complete over 12,126 client contacts and serve more than 5,213 adults, youth and families.

Braham said NFL officials wanted some initial grant funding to help CALL become a national model. A “good portion” went towards attending nationwide conferences with other city officials.

“The City of Tampa recently announced that they’re shifting to more of this model in partnership with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay,” she added. “I think that’s showing we’ve had some success in convincing people this is a good option.”

Members of the CALL team meet the community. Photo provided.

The Inspire Change initiative also provided priceless recognition. The NFL implemented endzone messaging and sideline banners and adorned players and coaches with program apparel.

In-stadium and broadcast video content highlighted social justice efforts by grant recipients, athletes and teams. While Braham is unsure if those aspects will return in the 2024 season, she is optimistic that CALL will become “less of a unicorn. We are seeing some headway with that.”

The $450,000 grant will further efforts to reduce or prevent negative youth involvement with police. It will also help provide activities to engage kids and their families in high-crime and low-income neighborhoods.

Braham said the money would help cover youth league enrollment fees and one-time costs that prevent participation. Some will go towards overnight emergency housing. “We don’t have the funds to do this sort of stuff because many grants don’t … cover these incidentals,” she added.

Braham said CALL has proven there are kinder and gentler ways to address many societal issues. She believes the program’s most “exceptional” aspect is that it explores underlying causes rather than focusing on the symptoms, and offers the support needed to move forward.

CALL’s social workers and clinicians stock up on toiletries before heading out into the field. Photo by Ashley Morales.

Like NFL officials, Braham hopes the temporary Inspire Change initiative motivates professional athletes and local leaders to support the CALL program. She also noted the challenge of retaining social workers who live in or near the communities they serve.

Braham said corporate sponsors could assist those efforts by offering sporting event tickets and end-of-year bonuses. She said social workers prioritize feeling respected, valued and recognized.

The NFL is doing its part. The league features 32 teams and made Gulf Coast JFCS one of 10 nonprofits out of millions nationwide to receive funding – twice.

“I think that just speaks to the uniqueness and bravery of this project,” Braham said of CALL. “It certainly requires trust and authenticity, and I think you get that from social workers who commit their lives to this work.”






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  1. Avatar

    Velva Heraty

    June 9, 2024at10:44 am

    Everyone I know supports this initiative. At first it was scary as domestic calls often lead to violence. I want to send my caring and support to every social worker in this exemplary initiative. 🌷

  2. Avatar


    June 6, 2024at4:16 pm

    Great news! And bravo to a successful program! 👏👏👏

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