The Sun Valley Youth Center serves as a refuge in an otherwise forgotten neighborhood of Denver

DENVER – Nestled in the heart of an often overlooked Denver community lies a hidden gem.

At Sun Valley Youth Center, every day is faced with new challenges and new opportunities to learn how to deal with them.

“We do trauma-informed programs here,” said Kris Rollerson, executive director of Sun Valley Youth Center. “So when the kids come in they might be deregulated from school, they might be struggling or having a tough day. We want to be that safe place where the kids can come and really let go and know that we’re still going support them.

Support — something Rollerson says many of these children and their families lack.

“There are a lot of single moms, single moms, single moms, and so supporting them, of course,” Rollerson said. “Some of our mothers come out of horrible situations of domestic violence, and so they literally have no support.

The center serves as a refuge for many children during what may be one of the most difficult but influential years of their lives. That’s why staff are dedicated to the pillar of TBRI, or Trust-Based Intervention, which means building relationships and addressing behaviors while giving each child tools they can use to manage their emotions.

“We talked to them a lot about mental health and mindfulness, and just being in tune with their emotions and also recognizing emotions and how they might arise in the body or make them act or make us act. a certain way, and like how to deal with those and deal with those emotions,” said Elementary Program Director Diamond Sykes.

While Sykes is now the elementary program director, she once sat exactly where these kids are sitting today. She says that without the center, many children may never have the chance to experience anything outside of their neighborhood boundaries.

“It also gives us the opportunity to explore our passions and things we might not have even thought of otherwise,” Sykes said. “I feel like it helped me open my mind a bit to everything that’s out there, even in my town and everything.”

It was success stories like Sykes’ that prompted Sun Valley to launch a social media campaign.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. Rollerson launched the campaign to showcase a different person every day, including stories of hope and faces that have walked the halls of Sun Valley and gone on to do great things.

These faces include current students who love the center for the simple things.

“What’s your favorite thing to do here?” asked photojournalist William Peterson.

“Uh… uh… play!” replied Salah, 9, who has been attending the center for four years.

“The staff here are actually really cool,” said 10th grader Numan Mahamed, who has been attending the center for 10 years. “Like, they’re not like teachers, they’re almost like friends. Like, they accept me.

Accepting each individual for who they are is key, says Rollerson, because ultimately every child needs to know they are heard and matter.

“Just a kid with a smile on his face because he knew after school he was going to go to someone who was going to hug him and love him no matter what,” Rollerson said. “I think for me, seeing lives transformed, seeing families lifted out of generational poverty, and just the joy and the hope that I see, that’s what keeps me going every day.”

To learn more about the Sun Valley Youth Center, Click here.

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