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About the IMPROVE Program Designer/Director Michael J. Whitely, Ph.D.

  With a passion for reducing violence, Michael Whitely found himself working as an undercover narcotics agent fresh out of the police academy. His passion soon led to an appointment as ‘violence prevention’ community outreach officer for the Ashtabula County Sheriffs Department (Ohio). But it wasn’t until a gun accident took the life of a local six-year old student that Officer Whitely wholeheartedly embraced his passion.

  Following the gun fatality, Whitely initiated a program to melt down unwanted and criminal weapons as part of the non-profit organization IMI he co-founded years before. The meltdowns were coupled with violence prevention dialogue sessions. The name given the program was IMPROVE (International Model of Partnerships for the Reduction Of Violence through Education).  The program’s objective was to empower students, educators, police and other community leaders to actively engage in violence prevention dialogue while creating ‘peace monuments’ made from the ‘criminal’ scrap metal.

  IMPROVE became an international initiative following the terrorist events of 2001 when Whitely (also a former fireman) and other search and rescue workers at Ground Zero discussed life beyond 9-11.  Whitely’s references to IMI’s local violence prevention work triggered emotional responses calling for IMI to also engage American allies. Whitely’s and his IMI colleagues attempted this undertaking overseas by contacting police agencies throughout Europe. Despite many roadblocks, Whitely received commitments from national leaders in six countries who agreed to meet with his American delegations, address international issues of violence, and melt down their illegal firearms as symbolic “peace monuments” for the American initiative. The success of these six international gatherings would later prompt the president of Interpol to encourage its 182-member countries to join IMPROVE.

   IMPROVE has grown to include dialogue sessions with judges, prosecuting attorney’s, law enforcement personnel (at the local, state, and federal level) and a host of other violence prevention specialists. The program recently received the National Community-Based Organization Of the Year Award from the National Society for Experiential Education. Whitely continues to direct the program and is now preparing to bring IMPROVE to the continent of Africa. IMPROVE’s original twelve-ton fountain made from illegal firearms now sits in Northern Ireland while a second fountain is expected to be unveiled in Ohio.