Denver mayor, schools superintendent announce youth summer programs meant to help curb gun violence

The Denver skyline sits in the middle of the frame with green trees in the foreground, blue mountains and a yellow sky in the background.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero said engaging youth during the summer is a "shared responsibility." (Getty Images)

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The city of Denver is aiming to connect 1,000 more teenagers with jobs this summer, help families find summer camps, and fund pop-up events like BBQs and basketball tournaments in some neighborhoods, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston announced Monday.

The efforts are meant to “prevent the risks of summer violence,” Johnston said, which tends to flare among youth once school is out. They come after several years of increased gun violence in and around Denver schools and community conversations about how to tamp it down.

“We all know it’s a shared responsibility to ensure our scholars are engaged over the summer,” Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero said at a press conference with Johnston.

The last day for most public schools in Denver is June 5.

Marrero has been raising the alarm about increasing gun violence and pushing the city to take action since the fall of 2022, when an East High School student was shot in the face outside a city recreation center next to the school. The student was a bystander in a fight.

A few months later, in February 2023, 16-year-old East High student Luis Garcia was shot and killed as he sat in his car outside the school. Then, in March 2023, a 17-year-old East High student shot and injured two deans inside the school before taking his own life.

Johnston recently set a goal to reduce gun violence in the city by 20% by Dec. 31.

“Summer is a great opportunity to get young people engaged in positive activities,” Johnston said. “It can also be an at-risk time for young people who are not engaged in positive activities to be exposed to violence.

“So we are thinking about this as a multi-pronged approach to how we can engage young people into positive summer activities.”

The initiatives include:

  • The Mayor’s YouthWorks Initiative, which aims to connect 1,000 young people ages 14 to 21 with summer jobs. Young people who work 100 hours between May 1 and Aug. 16 and complete financial literacy training can get a $1,000 bonus. Priority will be given to young people who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals or other public benefits.
  • A new website that Johnston called a “one-stop shop” for finding summer camps and other programming. The website — at denvergov.org/youthsummer — allows families to enter a school name or home address and see all the summer programming within a certain mile radius. Many of the listed programs are free or offer financial assistance.
  • $500,000 in grant funding for local organizations to host pop-up neighborhood events for children and families that Johnston said “will bring life, and joy, and opportunity to communities where we know we have a real chance to drive down community violence.” Five hot spots around the city will be prioritized for the grant-funded pop-up events, a city spokesperson said.

Johnston encouraged employers in the city to sign up to be part of the YouthWorks effort, and he promoted two city-led youth job fairs, one virtual and one in-person:

All of the new programming is being funded by a state grant known as GEER, which stands for Governor’s Emergency Education Relief and is funded by federal pandemic relief dollars. The city’s Office of Children’s Affairs won $1.7 million in GEER funds, according to a city spokesperson.

Melanie Asmar is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Colorado. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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