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Denver seeks launch of new youth empowerment center amid ongoing youth violence prevention work

The City and County of Denver is proposing to establish a dedicated youth empowerment center in the Valverde neighborhood as part of the many ongoing strategies to address youth violence in under-resourced neighborhoods across Denver. The proposed acquisition passed unanimously out of Denver City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee yesterday. The next step will be consideration by the full City Council.

“We need a multi-faceted, community-focused approach to break the cycle of youth violence, and this is another action we are taking to support that,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said.

The city, on behalf of Denver Economic Development & Opportunity (DEDO), submitted a proposal to City Council to acquire 1240 West Bayaud Avenue in Denver’s Valverde neighborhood using $3 million of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding. The building is currently owned by the Police Activities League (PAL), a Colorado non-profit.

“We want young people to reach for resources, not weapons. We want them to find fulfillment, not become trapped in the criminal justice system,” Mayor Hancock said.  “As economic uncertainty took hold in 2020, youth violence began to increase. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges youth face. This youth center, which would serve the whole city, would provide the space to enhance youth resources physically and virtually.”

If City Council approves the acquisition, the building is intended to be used for a range of citywide youth services and programming, which could include behavioral and mental health services, workforce and training programs, entrepreneurial support, and/or recreation programs for youth and families. The city will seek partnerships to program the space through an RFP process. Built in 2010 and situated on more than half an acre, the building is centrally located near the Alameda Light Rail Station, RTD bus routes, Interstate 25 and Santa Fe Drive. The building also includes a rock-climbing wall and basketball court and is adjacent to City-owned athletic fields.

“The community has been asking for a dedicated youth center for decades,” Denver City Councilman Jolon Clark said.  “In fact, the Valverde neighborhood, which I represent, first called for a youth center in its 1991 neighborhood plan.  It has never been more needed than right now, and this youth center will provide robust services and a safe space for youth and their families for decades to come.  The community is thrilled for this proposal to come to life.”

“This center is the first of its kind of Denver, and we are excited to work with the community on the vision for its future, but we recognize that it is also just a first step,” City Attorney Kristin M. Bronson said.  “Our long-term approach is to deploy multiple strategies across multiple neighborhoods with special attention to our historically under-resourced neighborhoods that have been most impacted by youth violence.  We pursue opportunities of this scale one at a time as funding allows, especially as we navigate the toughest budget cycle Denver has experienced since the Great Depression.  Our proposal to acquire this building comes after other cities launched dedicated youth centers, like the Change Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, and found them to be enormously successful.”

Bronson is leading the Youth Violence Prevention Action Table (YVPAT), which Mayor Hancock convened in 2019 to develop a public health approach to addressing youth violence.  Since then, the YVPAT has also implemented a short-term action plan for addressing youth violence prevention during the COVID-19 health crisis.

“Action Table participants, particularly youth and members of community-based organizations, have said repeatedly that a youth empowerment center is needed in Denver to offer a variety of supports to youth and families – a safe place for young people to go that offers hope and opportunity,” Bronson said.

“I believe that providing a physical location for services and resources for young people in Denver is important so that resources and services are easier to access,” Youth Violence Prevention Council member Daisha Burris said.

“Now that I reflect more, this space can allow for so much knowledge to be passed around,” Youth Violence Prevention Council member Jorge Garcia said.  “Discussion, and overall solid strategic planning, will further our plans to make our communities and Denver as a whole a better place for all.  Not for some, all.”

Denver’s YVPAT consists of city and regional government leaders, external partners, community stakeholders who work with youth, and youth who serve on the newly formed Youth Violence Prevention Council.  Other work of the Action Table in 2020 includes the launch of a youth-oriented, community-based organization microgrant program, implementation of a short-term COVID action plan, and support for a series of ‘safe zone’ events for youth in under-resourced Denver neighborhoods. The Action Table will issue its final report and long-term youth violence prevention strategy by the end of the year.

Just last week, Denver received national recognition by Cities United in being honored with its ‘City’ award for an innovative city that is modeling the work and leading the field in creating safe, healthy and hopeful communities for young Black men and boys and their families.