By Yesenia Robles | The Denver Post
A five-year project to research - and decrease - youth violence in Denver's Montbello neighborhood is more than halfway through, and officials are expecting to see change.
"Community change does take some time," said Shelli Brown, the community site manager for the project. "But based on the programs that were chosen and the fact that their implementation is going well and is widespread, we believe, for the things we are targeting, the change will happen."
The goal is to reduce youth violence behaviors and risk factors by 10 percent in 2016.
Tuesday at The Timbers Hotel (4411 Peoria St.), organizers are hosting a meeting to update progress and will present a sustainability plan that asks for investment in continuing the program after the grant ends next year. The plan estimates an annual price tag of $169,978.
In 2012, community surveys and interviews set a baseline and guided the selection of programs that could make the biggest impact in the community.
According to that initial data, 18 percent of Montbello youth surveyed in the community were at risk for "serious violence perpetration one year later." When students were surveyed at school, 26 percent of high school students and 24 percent of middle schoolers were identified as at risk for violence.
That was higher than 17 percent of youth from a broader group surveyed during appointments at the Children's Hospital.
The top three risk factors were having early problem behaviors, family conflict, and having friends involved in problem behavior or weak social ties.
The programs implemented since have reached thousands of students and parents, Brown estimates.
Shaunte Timmons, a single mom of two teen boys, took part in one of the implemented programs, Strengthening Families.
"It's kind of hard to communicate with teenagers, and the program actually kind of helped me think of different ways to interact with them, how to approach things differently," Timmons said.
Parents and children attend weekly meetings where half of the time youth are apart from the adults and then join the parents for interactive activities to improve communication.
Timmons heard about the program when her younger son was having anger problems. Now, she says, he's maturing.
"The first couple of times they didn't want to go at all. They didn't think they needed it," Timmons said. "But they actually liked the program toward the end."
Program facilitator Sharikia Towers hears similar stories.
"Seeing the aha moments, it's kind of eye-opening to say 'OK, they got that. This is going to make a difference,' " Towers said.
But, the program needs to reach more families, organizers and parents say.
"We can't just pull out," Brown said. "First, I think the change would kind of dissipate, but two, because we made a commitment to the community not to do hit-and-run research."