Youth Violence is a Solvable Problem

Posted on by Bonnie Rodriguez

To say I grew up far from violence would be an understatement.  My small Midwestern farming community was loving and safe enough that we often left our front doors unlocked.  Violence was something that happened on the news or in the movies.

When I moved to Miami, I knew things would be different – at the very least, I’d need to start carrying house keys! – but I was surprised by how little violence played a role in my daily life, even though I moved to Homestead, which was then listed as #17 on America’s “most violent cities.”  I would tell people that I thought its reputation was overblown.  Then I started the girls’ events.

About once a month, volunteers and I would host girls-only breakfasts or overnight events, tackling topics like self-esteem, identity, and relationships.  Almost immediately, girls started coming up to me and other leaders to share stories of sexual violence and abuse. YFC had prepared us for this possibility and even trained us how to respond, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of girls coming forward – what were the odds?

It turns out, they were and still are pretty high.  According to the DHHS, one in 9 girls will experience sexual abuse before she turns 18; in low-income neighborhoods, the number is closer to 1 in 4.

When we started our Over the Edge event in 2017, we chose the slogan “stop youth violence” because we see how violence affects our youth in many forms – the PTSD-like symptoms experienced by a youth who saw a friend or family member die; the crippling anxiety that crushes a student who is afraid of bullying; and the depression hanging on the backs of young men and women who have been abused. However, as a site leader, I also saw how the transformational message of Jesus’ love places a student on a path toward healing and wholeness. Jesus can break the cycle of violence for a child, once and for all.  When I thought about that, it was easy…well, easier to raise $1,000 and take that big first step off the side of a 10-story building.

In the last 2 years, I have been inspired by the number of alumni who have joined us in this effort, including my mentee, Citlali.  Last year, she set a new record for alumni dollars raised ($2,500) and got two friends to rappel with her!  “I was shown compassion by amazing people, people who helped me realize how much I want to love others, whether that’s something big like fundraising or simply listening to someone who doesn’t know how special they are,” said Citlali.

Youth violence is a solvable problem in Miami, but we can’t do it alone.  I pray that as you read stories from the field on this blog, you are inspired to continue with us in the fight to give our youth “a future filled with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NET)  It’s the future they deserve.

Johanna Ralsten-Cox
Ministries Director

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