January 12, 2021
“We created Supportive Safe Spaces to check-in with our friends,” said Caleb Washington, a high school senior. “We’re really close and this is a place we can kick it and talk about how we’re feeling, and I can make sure they’re ok. A lot of them have challenging family environments and with COVID and remote learning, they’re trapped.
“I was thinking, how can we create a space that’s safe and quiet,” Caleb said, as he apologized for his siblings making so much noise in the next room. “So, we came up with this program.”
Supportive Safe Spaces is a program of Project VOYCE (Voices of Youth Creating Equity), a community-based nonprofit created by a group of students at Manual High School, Denver, in 2006. Through after-school and summer programming for youth ages 14-24, their focus is making sure youth are engaged as partners in their own development and the development of their communities. Project VOYCE is one of 40 community-based organizations, after-school programs and schools statewide to receive funding from Caring for Colorado Foundation to support the care, education and well-being of children and youth as care and schooling continue to be disrupted by COVID-19 (learn more).
Like all schools and programs for children and youth, Project VOYCE has adapted programming and approaches throughout the pandemic. “We found out that we can also provide disaster relief funds,” said Vanessa Roberts, Project VOYCE executive director. “It’s not what we do normally, but for young people to show up and be present in programming we don’t want them worried about how their family will find money for rent, food and gas. We made this expansion to show care for our young people.”
“I’ve seen how COVID impacts stress levels. When people were buying up everything at the grocery stores, my mom had to pull money out of savings to buy food,” said Alessandra (Ale) Chavira, program management fellow to the community-based organization. “Luckily, my family is ok but having this fund makes a big difference.” Ale, who was drawn to Project VOYCE while in high school because it aligned with her desire to fight for social change, graduated in May. She put out-of-state college plans on hold due to COVID and is grateful for the opportunity serve as a fellow.
Caleb agreed, “My dad lost his job because of COVID and we weren’t making funds to get groceries and pay bills. Project VOYCE made sure that all youth in the program, and their families, were taken care of. All the love, it’s amazing.”
“The shifts we have made during the pandemic allow us to continue the work of partnering with youth as advocates of their leadership development and learning, while also ensuring our community has access to the food and support they deserve amidst this crisis, and at all times,” said Vanessa.
Young people come to Project VOYCE through referral from DPS and direct request from people in the community. Caleb, who came to Project VOYCE four years ago because “my mom wanted me to be busy” appreciates the support, especially as he sees friends struggling during the pandemic. “I’m forever grateful for a mom who wants me to succeed and the place I am in life.”