INDIANAPOLIS — Whitney Jones was only 9 years old when she lost her father.
“It was very hard on myself, as well as my family,” she said. “I remember growing up having so many questions, like ‘Why me?’ Why is it my family that has to experience this?'”
Raymond Jones, Whitney’s father, was shot and killed in 1998 in Indianapolis.
While time has passed, Jones says she’s at a place of healing and forgiveness, but it wasn’t easy.
“I can’t say that the grieving process ever goes away, but it does get easier,” said Jones. “Like in my case, it took 20 years for me to be in a space where I was able to meet, and actually forgive, the woman that took my father’s life.”
These days, Jones is turning her story of heartache into an opportunity to help other families.
As gun violence increases in Indianapolis, Jones says the vicious cycle brings up pain she remembers all too well after losing her father.
“I know every time I see a news coverage of someone being killed in the city,” said Jones, “I, automatically, I think being in that position. I think about the families, and I know once the news coverage is gone that family is still left to grieve.”
Jones started the Raymond K. Jones Foundation in March 2020. The goal is to provide financial relief, support and resources to families impacted by gun violence.
The foundation, which is named after her father, offers two financial programs.
The scholarship program is available to high school seniors or undergraduates who lost a parent or guardian to gun violence. Jones says applications usually open around mid-December through beginning of March. The goal is to select two or three students for amounts of anywhere between $500 to $1500.
The Bereavement Assistance Program is open throughout the year to those who lost an immediate family member to gun violence within the last six months. The minimum, families can receive, is at least $500. Jones says amounts could reach between $2,000 and $3,000 at most.
Funds for each program vary depending on what’s currently available and the amount of applications.
Since the foundation launched during the height of the pandemic, Jones says it was difficult to get the word out. Now a little more than a year in operation, they’re already helping their first family in the bereavement program.
“One of the family members, affected by the stimulus check murder, had actually reached out to us and let us know that she needed assistance,” she said.
Being able to make a difference in her dad’s name is an honor Jones considers overwhelming at times, but very rewarding.
“Knowing I can bless families that were in my situation is just a blessing,” she said, “and I’m excited to be out here, and I want to help families as much as I can. We also want to create a platform for families to share their story as well.”
As Indianapolis surpasses 100 homicides this year, Jones is hopeful for brighter days ahead. In the meantime, she hopes her mission highlights the costly impact of gun violence and its rippling effect on families.
“Putting down the guns will help save lives, and that’s pretty much what it’s going to boil down to,” said Jones. “In that split second, when you’re trying to get back at somebody, or you have ill feelings toward somebody, and the first thing you think about is I want to hurt them, when you think about that, just think about when you hurt that one person, you’re going to hurt many people.”