COVID-19 complicates efforts to stop youth violence in Montbello

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DENVER (KDVR) — Police continue to investigate a Tuesday night shooting in Montbello that left a juvenile dead. It’s the latest homicide in a community that has been working for years to reduce violence.

Since 2011, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding been used to study and combat youth violence in Montbello. Participants said the program has had a positive impact over the years, but the pandemic is creating a challenge.

Denver police track violent crimes throughout Montbello and citywide.

“Montbello is a very prideful community,” said Angelia Baker, community site representative for Steps To Success Montbello. “Montbello is a community that is sometimes overlooked when it comes to providing services.”

Baker, along with her boss, Dave Bechhoefer, at the University of Colorado Boulder Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, are working to stop the violence in the younger generation. Studying youth violence has been difficult recently, according to Bechhoefer.

“The pandemic has actually made it difficult to pull out any solid findings,” he said.

But, over the years, Bechhoefer said “low attachment to the neighborhood” has been the biggest risk factor for youth violence in Montbello.

“They lose connection with that community,” Baker explained.

Youth, primarily ages 16 to 24, are most at risk of losing that connection, according to officials.

Funding from the CDC has created initiatives in the area. Youth board members are focused on various strategies. They launched a media campaign last year. The video—promoted on social media– has had nearly three million impressions since September, Bechhoefer said.

“We’ve gotten far and away the best response through Snapchat,” he added.

Funding also helps Bechhoefer and his team support organizations that keep kids busy and learning various life skills.

“These kids are so overlooked,” said Ceirra Noel, 15, who engages the community as a youth ambassador.

Noel works to recognize peers for their positive impacts in the Montbello neighborhood. Her classmate Angel Amankwaah does the same.

“I’ve been exposed to more opportunities,” Amankwaah said.

The CDC study is set to wrap up in September. That’s when extensive analysis will showcase the program’s achievements and where improvements can be made. After that time, Bechhoefer is hopeful more federal and state money will continue to support community-based initiatives surrounding preventative measures aimed at stopping the violence.

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