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Center offers support and connection to those impacted by violence

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HIGHLANDS RANCH – It’s a place for connection, community and support.

The STEM Center for Strength is a grant-funded resiliency center offering “trauma-informed care,” resources, connection and community for those impacted by the shooting on May 7, 2019, at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old student, was killed in the attack while lunging at the shooter to protect other students.

The new center opened for virtual services a year ago. It will open the doors to small groups on May 7.

It’s located at 640 Plaza Drive in Highlands Ranch, across the street from the STEM school but is not affiliated with the school or the Douglas County School District.

The center is affiliated with community mental health provider AllHealth Network. A $2.9 million grant for the center was announced last September.

“It’s a hub for resources through social connection, coming and hanging out with your peers (and for) the staff to come and hang out with their colleagues, (and) families to come together to meet and connect with a therapist,” said Jess Monda, the administrator of the center. “Also, just (being) a safe place that is not attached to the school is a really key reason for our center to exist.”

There’s also a commons area where kids can come and hang out, connect with each other and play games.

Monda said that one of the center’s core values is the resiliency of the community.

“We provide multiple ways for you to engage in those free resources,” she said. “One way is to connect with a therapist one on one. We also offer family counseling as well as couples counseling and those are the primary resources we offer our community to provide mental health support.”

Because of the pandemic, she said, “I think it’s hard to determine what specifically could be at the root of social anxiety, or any kind of depression or anger for that matter, for those kind of erratic emotions. And so because of the pandemic, it has created compound trauma, so I am very thankful that we are here.”

Monda’s hope is that every community across the nation will have a resiliency center eventually, adding that it will take a village to work through challenges facing society lately.

“I personally am thankful that we are here, especially for those who are impacted by any other mass gun violence such as Boulder,” she said. “We can be a place and a resource for them as well.”

The center is looking for volunteers and donations to keep the doors open after the grant runs out.

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