Aurora, CO

Aurora delays funding youth violence programs

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

Despite recognizing youths in Aurora get shot almost every day, City Council members delayed funding youth violence programs Monday.

As part of its plan to quell youth violence, Aurora plans to give $500,000 to local nonprofits.

At a study session Monday, city staff presented a list of proposed grantees. But a few council members said they would not support the choices. Every council member said they wanted a revised list. Councilmembers Juan Marcano and Crystal Murillo missed the meeting.

Staff will poll the council

Director of Housing and Community Services Jessica Prosser will ask the council to score each nonprofit on the list. From there, staff will compile a list prioritizing council preference.

A panel of volunteers with expertise working with youth created the list, which Youth Violence Program Manager Christina Amparan defended as "solid."

Amparan said the grantees chosen would have a synergistic effect on reducing youth violence and performing different tasks and offering various services while working toward a common goal.

Concerns about Denver nonprofits

Several council members expressed concern Denver nonprofits are on the list. They want to make sure the program focuses on Aurora.

Others said the original list offers too many small grants to too many organizations. Seventeen nonprofits would get grants as low as $7,500. Councilmember Dustin Zvonek suggested larger grants to fewer organizations would be more effective.

He said the list does not seem backed by a vision. "What problems are we trying to solve?"

Zvonek wants to see data from every nonprofit that gets a grant showing what they accomplished with the money. "I don't want to just have vanity metrics," he said, suggesting records show details such as the number of people served.

Zvonek wants more violence interrupters

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The proposed list of grantees included everything from the court's juvenile assessment program to life lessons in a boxing ring.

The city plans to award 80 percent of the money to programs and nonprofits intervening with troubled city youth. The other 20 percent will go toward prevention programs to keep teens on a healthy path.

Zvonek expressed disappointment the original list only supports one violence interrupter. He said the work they do is essential. "Having more of these would be a good thing and impactful to the city."

Bergan endorses court-sponsored program

According to the original list, a court-sponsored program that assesses youths' emotional needs and mental health would get $48,759.

"Our focus is to provide connection to resources and services through free, in-depth clinical assessment or triage services," writes the Juvenile Assessment Center of the 18th Judicial District in its application. "Our clinicians work to understand the barriers youth are facing at home, school and/or in the community and then connect the youth and family to necessary resources and services to create a stable environment where they can thrive."

According to the court's data, youth and their families critically need mental health support, parent education and support, educational resources, and mentoring services. Sometimes a child's basic needs go unmet, according to the center.

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Councilmember Francoise Bergan said the center does good work. She said she would support giving them more money.

Proposed intervention programs

Organizations proposed to receive grants that now will be scored by council include:

· Aurora Community Connection, $39,600, mental health services

· Fully Liberated Youth, $60,000, outreach mentorship, therapy, wraparound services

· Mosaic Unlimited, $68,141, creating safe havens and strengthening families.

· Step Up Youth Corp., $65,000, Aurora public schools, partnership to create learning groups

· Struggle of Love Foundation, $56,000, violence interruption

· University of Colorado At-Risk Intervention and Mentoring, or AIM project, $62,500.

Proposed prevention programs

Prevention efforts focus on giving youths safe things to do and places to hang out. According to a January report by the city, "Youth say they generally feel safe in libraries, at home, sometimes in their neighborhoods, and at certain parks (but only during the day). School can occasionally feel like a safe place for some, specifically their counselor's office."

Nonprofits on the list of proposed prevention programs include:

· A1 Boxing Fitness Academy, $10,000, mentoring, self-defense, and self-esteem training. The money funds the "Put the Guns Down - Put the Gloves On" pilot program for one year.

· Department of Housing and Family Services, $5,000, movie nights, resident engagement

· Aurora Public Schools, $10,000, prevention support

· Aurora Sister Cities, $10,000, civic engagement summer camp

· Denver Area Youth for Christ, $10,000, youth nights

· Driven by our Ambitions, $10,000, basketball nights

· Rocky Mountain Welcome Center, gender-specific support for immigrant girls

· Urban Nature Impact, outdoor activities, $7,500

· RISE 5280, $7,500, partnership with Urban Nature Impact

Youth violence discussions political

Discussions about youth violence sometimes turn political in Aurora. Councilmembers have exchanged swipes over the best ways to address youth violence.

"Substance abuse is not on the list, and it needs to be way up there," Mayor Pro Tem Francoise Bergan said at a council meeting three weeks ago. At that time, Amparan explained the youth violence plan lists substance abuse as a risk factor for youth violence but not a driver of youth crime.

In March, the conservative City Council majority voted to reinstate the city's former gang program. They said a previous youth violence plan pushed by a minority of council members focused too heavily on prevention and not enough on intervention.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

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