AURORA, Colo. — While the country grapples with new, horrific details from the Texas mass shooting, families across the nation are having difficult conversations at home. Here in Colorado, Aurora police officers are hoping to connect community members with resources to help.
"It's very important to get this message out," said Officer Elizabeth McGregor. "Children and teens need the resources."
This week, the Aurora Police Department became the first agency in the state to partner with the I Matter program.
The program was launched in fall 2021 and provides six free, virtual counseling session for those 18 or younger. Last week, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed House Bill 22-1243, providing additional funding for the program through June 30, 2024.
Joshua Nicholas, manager of community relations for APD, says the agency decided to partner with I Matter after hearing from community members.
"We've held several different town hall events over the last six months in response to youth violence here in Aurora, and a reoccurring theme that we've heard from youth, from parents and from educators is that our youth need a safe space to talk to to adults about the problems that they're facing," Nicholas said. "This is a free service that already exists, why not elevate it?"
APD has ordered signs, brochures and other handouts in hopes of connecting community members with I Matter.
"We're trying to plaster the town," Nicholas said. "There's no reason youth and adults shouldn't know about this free resource, particularly given just the number of challenges our youth are facing right now."
For some, the most recent challenge is gun violence
"We heard from some administrators today at Aurora Public Schools that said, "Parents are upset. Kids are crying because of what happened in Texas yesterday." So it doesn't necessarily have to happen in your backyard, it can happen anywhere in this country. It impacts us," Nicholas said.
Those who help lead the I Matter program encourage participation, citing the immediate availability of the program's counselors.
"We've had almost 8000 completed appointments since October 27, 2021, when the program launched, and we have 700 appointments that are scheduled and upcoming," said Liz Owens, deputy director of programs for the the state's Office of Behavioral Health.
Owens says as of Monday, 2,845 youth have received at least one session, and almost 2,000 youth have receive two or more sessions.
"When you know better, you do better," Nicholas said. "Our hope is that this program really helps our youth to thrive this summer, to feel safe and to feel cared for."
To learn more about I Matter, click here.