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Program tries to combat youth violence by addressing trauma

More than 10 people under 18 have been shot in Aurora so far this year.

AURORA, Colo. — A program in Aurora is trying to tackle youth violence by helping young people face their trauma. They believe teenagers will be less likely to commit crimes in the future if they know how to cope with loss.

More than 10 people under 18 years old have been shot in Aurora so far this year. According to Aurora police, three juveniles have been killed in 2022, compared to five juveniles in all of 2021.

Sharletta Evans believes unaddressed trauma is fueling the violence in the city. 

"Their pain and their anger is seeping out through violence and that is it, it is the unaddressed trauma," said Evans, founder of the Colorado Crime Survivors Network.

The group is running an eight-week program from April 13 to June 1 to help kids learn how to cope with loss. Teens can attend if they are between the ages of 13 and 17 and have experienced some kind of trauma, such as the loss of a loved one to violence or domestic violence. 

Evans said many teens sign up after the murder of a loved one. 

"It gave them a sense of belonging," she said. "It is paramount that we get together as community leaders to target those youth that are actually have suffered loss of a best friend, a close cousin, a sibling, a father, a mother."

Teens start the program with a survey to identify their biggest needs. Organizers said they will address the lack of coping skills and offer healing opportunities through therapy and counseling.

"Helping someone learn how to deal with their problems as a child means that they don't grow up and just perpetrate those same negative coping skills," said Kimberley Jones, a therapist working with teens in the program. 

This is not a new program. It started before the pandemic, but it is coming back in light of recent violence. 

"Something happened to them and all they know how to do is violence," Jones said. "You can show them that, you know, here are some other things."

Evans believes the root cause of crime and gang involvement stems from unaddressed trauma. She hopes answering questions about their pain can help teens heal and stay out of trouble. 

"We have got to get to the root cause of the problem," she said. "That is why this is so important."

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