The OCN Street Team screamed for one minute straight, and it was real.

The OCN Street Team recently visited the Sun Valley Youth Center in Denver, Colorado, and we screamed for one minute straight. Here's why.

During our one-minute screaming exercise, Kris Rollerson, Executive Director of SVYC, used it to illustrate what trauma feels like for many of the children, ages 5-21, in which they serve, live next to, work alongside, and play hard with. Trauma is a familiar state for many of the kids who come to the old, but brightly painted blue building in the middle of the community; so SVYC not only resources them and their families with physical supplies but with emotional resources as well.

"We teach them how to advocate for themselves," how to use their voice in a calm way, how to respect other people's "hula hoop bubble" space, and teach them coping skills. And when the child's "lid is flipped" and their "flight" in the "fight-or-flight" response kicks in, the child already has a safe running path that gives them space and the staff knows where they can find them to bring them back.

The Sun Valley neighborhood of 1,800 people (800 of which are children), occupies less than 1 square mile and it's bordered by I-25 (east) and Federal Boulevard (west) between 8th Avenue and 20th Avenue. Historically, the area was zoned for industrial, but for generations, it has housed the marginalized and holds the title of being the poorest community in Colorado. But that's not the story and heart of being a "SunValley."

Rollerson has been the Executive Director since 1998, upon coming into town for an internship. Over more than 20 years later, she's been a part of three generations of SunValleys with wins and losses both personally and community-based. She just went through a divorce last year and lost her dog just a couple of months ago. She's gone through COVID with the Sun Valley neighborhood battling internet gig caps, bureaucratic red tape, and nonsensical policies and guidelines. But she chooses to remain here. 

"It's the little wins in helping someone accomplish something that they thought they never could," said Rollerson.

Take Annette; she enrolled herself in the SVYC program at 4 years old (a year too early). When she didn't get it approved, she just started showing up at the Youth Center. She grew up in the compassion and tutelage of Rollerson in addition to other integral volunteers and staff who partnered with her in life. Years later, Annette was accepted to Calvin University, and with the help of Rollerson and SVYC resources, she received funding to attend all four years and she currently finances her own car. Still attending Calvin College, she has turned it upside down as she's advocated and established a Students of Color organization and is the editor for the college newspaper.

Much like Annette, it's the kids who sign themselves up to be a part of the Youth Center. They are the undeniable spirit of this marginalized community who refuse to remain underserved, underrated, and unknown. 

The opportunities that the Sun Valley Youth Center affords to any child who wants it includes:

  • Fresh produce grown in the community garden
  • Cooking classes, lunches, and dinners provided through Sun Valley Kitchen
  • Ice cream bike outings (include the ice cream, bikes, and upwards of 20-mile rides)
  • Gaga ball pit
  • Field trips (upwards of 65 kids)
  • Holistic family support
  • Paid work opportunities on-site
  • Library and book wagons
  • Wednesday family nights: BBQs, movie nights
  • After-school activities
  • Unlimited snacks and water
  • And more!

After more than 20 years in Sun Valley, Rollerson wants and needs a new Youth Center building for the neighborhood. Lara Galante, Director of Fundraising is raising $15 million for the building campaign. Here's the vision for the current old, small tri-level building to be transformed into an expansive 4-floor Youth and Community Center:

  • 2 floors dedicated to the Youth Center: 1 floor for elementary kids, 1 floor for middle-school kids
  • 1 floor dedicated to Crosspurpose: tuition-free career and community development program
  • 1 floor dedicated to older kids who can't qualify for housing 

Here are immediate asks for SVYC:

  • Building maintenance
  • Ice cream bike cart
  • Handlebar brake bikes

If you're interested in learning more about the Sun Valley Youth Center and the neighborhood, check them out here to see how you can be more involved in this vibrant and diverse community. 

Are you familiar with the Sun Valley neighborhood? Share your love in the comments.