DENVER (KDVR) — They were once hardened criminals, but a simple free-throw contest has members of the Denver Dream Center joining Denver police officers to help at-risk youth.

Pastor Bryan Sederwall, known as “Pastor B,” brought them together through his effort to address youth violence and despair.

“The City of Denver has had to battle a lot of youth violence, gun violence and gang violence, so at the Denver Dream center, we believe in hope and opportunities,” Sederwall said.

Sederwall has forged a long term relationship with the Denver Police Department, raising support for community awareness and providing meals for those in need.

“We think it’s fantastic,” Division Chief Ron Thomas told FOX31. “Pastor B is a terrific community partner of ours.”

Thomas said youth violence has increased approximately 70% over the past three years, with crime numbers typically rising during the summer season.

“This is a community problem. The youth are our future,” Thomas said.

The Denver Dream Center provides outreach services and assistance for at-risk youth and their families. Mark DeEsparza said the center has made a difference for many who had a rough start in life.

“I’ve been shot three times, I’ve been stabbed three times, I’ve been ran over twice and I did 13 years in prison,” he said.

DeEsparza has since turned his life around, and is now a successful business owner and respected member of the community. He is committed to helping others find a better path in life.

“I spent my childhood surviving my childhood, but I’m spending my adulthood thriving and helping children,” he said.

DeEsparza, Denver Police and others joined Pastor Sederwall as he shot free-throws for 12 hours on Tuesday to raise awareness of the needs of youth in Denver.

“The pain in my forearms hurts so bad. Every free throw I shoot, honestly, is a reminder of the pain that people are going through,” he said.

Ken Garcia said the gathering is about more than just basketball.

“Pastor B helped me rebuild my life,” he said. Garcia added that the Dream Center’s “Hope Dealers” slogan carries a deep meaning.

“We’re trying to teach these kids there’s more to life,” he said.

Sederwall said every Dream Center project is designed to send a clear message that will save lives.

“The number one thing we can invest in people is time, and I don’t think people have to have the same story to know how much you care,” he said.