DENVER- The Steps to Success Project kicked off four years ago thanks to a $5.4 million grant from the Center for Disease Control. It aims to reduce youth violence through community programs in Denver's Montbello neighborhood.
Dianne Cooks knows that violence well. Her son, Michael was shot in 2005 in a random act of gang violence.
"I got a call at 2:10 in the morning. I'll never forget. They called and let me know my son had been shot," Cooks said.
Michael survived the gunshots. He still has a bullet in his back, and he's paralyzed from the waist down. But through the violence, Dianne became part of an unfortunately growing club in Montbello.
"All the members, they're strong support. They come together, they help you, they pray with you. Without prayer, you could do nothing. You have to pray and ask god to help you to get through this. That's what makes us strong. That's what sets us apart from any other organization," Cooks saud.
In grieving with other families victimized by violence, she learned a support group was needed. She created Families Against Acts of Violence (FAVA) nearly 10 years ago. Once a month, she hosts grieving family members. Mothers and fathers whose kids have been shot and killed. She even hosts those who've lost kids to prison, charged with assaults, and murder.
"They are hurting to. That's not a choice that they made for their son to be locked up," she said.
You can imagine having the family of killers and victims in one room can become contentious. But she says it's actually helped the healing over the years, giving people a chance to say what's on their mind and most importantly, to forgive.
"If you are going to heal, you are going to have to let go and walk in forgiveness," she said.
It's a lesson reminiscent of Sunday school. FAVA is steeped in faith. And so is Steps to Success, a public program.
"When young people, when families are connected to a faith-based organization, that acts as a buffer, as a protective factor," said Shelli Brown, site manager for Steps to Success.
Brown says they are not and would not push any particular religion, especially being funded with public dollars. But their studies show that regardless of the denomination, faith creates community.
When the project launched, organizers surveyed residents in that area to learn what risk factors can be reduced and what protection factors can be added. One protective factor that's been lacking is positive recognition. Community members didn't feel credit was being given where credit was due.
"We want a ripple effect. I recognize you, it feels good, you think about it, you acknowledge somebody else," Brown said.
And so they began to make positive recognition more public. It's not just kids that will be recognized for good deeds moving forward, it's the adults, the role models. Role models like Dianne Cooks.
"You've got to get involved if you want to change your community and make your community what you want it to be. You can't do it by yourself. You need a team. Like they said, it takes a team to make the dream," Cooks said.
On Friday, Cooks and about a dozen other community members will be honored at the Steps to Success Positive Recognition Community Awards Night. The event starts at 6 p.m. at the Denver Broncos Branch of the Boys and Girls Club.
Steps to Success, heading into the final year of funding, is currently conducting another survey to see how the programs implemented have changed the community. They recognize long term change takes longer than five years, but it may give them an idea of how to move forward.
(© 2015 KUSA)