DENVER, Colo. — For Joel Hodges and Jason McBride, violence prevention is a labor of love. They are both now working seven days a week to reach out to teenagers in Denver and Aurora who are struggling with suicide, violence and crime.
They say that while their organization has helped many struggling teenagers in Colorado, the tide of violent crime and harm inflicted by and directed toward teenagers is rising.
"We've had a pandemic with youth violence," said Jason McBride, a youth violence prevention specialist. "There are a few organizations that are out here really ready to address it, but for the most part, it's gone unchecked."
McBride works with Struggle of Love, an organization founded in Denver to help stem the tide of teenage violence in Denver. The organization was founded by Joel Hodges more than a decade ago. Now, both say the organization and its mission is more important than ever.
"Some of these kids honestly are like ticking time bombs, because they haven't gotten the mental support that they needed through the isolation through this pandemic," McBride said. "And we're starting to see some of those things play out on the streets right now."
Over the weekend, one of the teenage members of Struggle of Love was killed in a shooting. It was one of two shootings impacting teenagers in the Denver area.
"It's tough because we develop relationships with these kids and then people — I don't think they really understand," said Joel Hodges. "All these kids know somebody who's been killed, unfortunately. And a good number of these kids also know somebody who has killed somebody. And so there's a huge trauma in that."
Organizers with Struggle of Love said there is a lot that needs to be done to reverse the trends of violence in teens around Denver and Aurora. The increasing trend was sparked before the COVID-19 pandemic, but isolation made the problem worse.
"In January of 2020, we had superseded Kansas City in juvenile murders," said Candice Bailey, an Aurora youth advocate and candidate for city council there. "Then came COVID-19 and our children are traumatized."
Bailey also works with mothers who have lost children to violence. She says COVID-19 has multiplied the number of parents who have come to her seeking help.
"If we are not talking to our children right now, we will not have a future to fight for," she said. "This has become a front and center issue that we must focus in on... We can no longer put Band-Aids on bullet wounds."