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Not another shooting: This time Six Flags. Are we failing our youth?

Shooting at Six Flags

Another shooting, this time it's closer to home. Six Flags, a place meant for laughter and joy, just a 20-minute drive from where I stand, became a scene of chaos and fear. It's disheartening, deeply frustrating. As the founder and executive director of SOOFA Ranch, I've dedicated my life to nurturing our youth, offering them a sanctuary where they can grow and heal. Yet, it seems that with each passing day, the challenges they face become more daunting, and the avenues for help, more scarce.

I've knocked on many doors, reached out to the Mayor of Atlanta, councilmen of Douglas and Fulton counties, and even Juvenile justice judges, hoping to forge partnerships that could change the tide for our young ones. However, my attempts are met with silence or polite disinterest. In a year that the Mayor of Atlanta has boldly proclaimed as the "Atl Year of Youth", the irony couldn't be starker. The message is clear: our children are crying out for help, yet the response remains woefully inadequate.

The recent shooting at Six Flags is a stark reminder of the urgency we face. This isn't about increasing security measures or patrolling officers; it's about addressing the root causes that lead our youth to such despair. It's a cry for help that we cannot afford to ignore.

The Urban Institute, for instance, has been instrumental in developing research-based practices aimed at reducing youth gun and gang violence. Their work, funded by the National Institute of Justice and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, has produced a guide that lays out practical recommendations for local governments, law enforcement, and community-violence-intervention stakeholders. This guide emphasizes the importance of implementing strategies that focus on keeping young people at risk of gun violence alive and out of incarceration, through a multifaceted approach that includes community engagement, conflict mediation, and support services

Notable instances are:

South Bronx's SOS: In its first years, this Center for Court Innovation program cut South Bronx gun violence by 63%. Through outreach and conflict resolution, it educates teens and young adults about gun violence and offers supportive mentorship.

Roca program in Baltimore: Roca, founded in Massachusetts and expanded to Baltimore, employs cognitive behavioral therapy and long-term relationships to help at-risk 16–24-year-old men establish healthy habits and mindsets. Roca's strategy yields positive outcomes, including improved behavioral health and reduced retaliatory aggression.

Richmond, California's Advance Peace program: The personal growth and well-being of gun violence victims is the aim of this initiative to combat cyclical gun violence. Advance Peace's Peacemaker Fellowship promotes trauma healing and life management through action plans and cognitive behavioral therapy.

These programs, among others, illustrate the effectiveness of community-based approaches in reducing gun violence among youth in urban areas. By focusing on intervention and prevention strategies that involve the community and address the root causes of violence, these programs offer a glimpse of hope for creating safer environments for urban youth. SOOFA Ranch stands to be a source of hope for youth that struggle with violence, behavioral issues and mental health challenges through its programs, such as our Horse Healing the Hood and Youth Equestrian Programs. SOOFA want to bring more awareness to the benefits of intervention programs we offer and how horses can make an impact on youth and gun violence.

Youth programs at SOOFA Ranch

On our ranch, we believe in the transformative power of connection, of empathy, and of healing through our programs. These initiatives are more than just activities; they are lifelines for those struggling with mental health issues, cognitive behavioral challenges, and the overwhelming waves of anxiety and depression.

Our programs are designed to offer solace and a path forward. Through the gentle guidance of our horses, certified equine specialists and license therapists, we've seen remarkable transformations—youth who once felt lost and hopeless finding their footing and a sense of purpose. Yet, the need far outweighs our current capacity. With more support and recognition, we could extend our reach, touching the lives of countless more young individuals who are on the brink of making a negative life altering decision.

The frustration of unheeded calls for collaboration weighs heavily, but it does not deter our mission. It only strengthens our resolve. SOOFA Ranch wants to be more than just a horse facility, but a pivotal force in steering our youth away from the precipice of violence and despair. As we stand in the shadow of this latest tragedy, let it be a catalyst for change. Let us come together, beyond the confines of security measures, but nurture, to support, and to empower our youth. They deserve a future where recreational spaces like Six Flags are synonymous with joy, not fear. They deserve a community that listens, that cares, and that takes action. 

The time for that change is now.

The Critical Need for Support: A Call to Action

Supporting SOOFA Ranch is more than a donation; it's an investment in the future of our youth and our community. By contributing to our cause, you're helping us create a safer, more nurturing environment for young people at the cusp of critical life decisions.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does equine assisted therapy contribute to youth development?

How can the community get involved with SOOFA Ranch?

What are the future plans for SOOFA Ranch?

How can someone support SOOFA Ranch? Frequently Asked Questions Answered

How does equine assisted therapy contribute to youth development?

Well, let me tell you, equine therapy is something truly special. It's not just about learning to ride horses; it's about building connections, trust, and empathy. When our youth work with horses, they're learning to understand non-verbal communication, recognize the importance of patience, and develop a sense of responsibility. It's incredibly rewarding to see how these interactions can lead to significant breakthroughs in their personal development.

What makes SOOFA Ranch's programs unique in addressing youth violence?

Our approach at SOOFA Ranch is all about creating a safe and supportive environment where young people can escape the pressures and challenges they face in their everyday lives. What sets us apart is our use of equine assisted therapy combined with targeted youth development programs. We're not just addressing the symptoms of youth violence; we're working to understand and tackle its root causes by empowering our youth with the skills and confidence they need to make positive choices.

How can the community get involved with SOOFA Ranch?

There are so many ways the community can get involved and make a real difference! From volunteering and mentoring to participating in our community events and workshops, every bit of support helps us enrich our programs. We also welcome donations, both financial and in-kind, such as horse care supplies or educational materials. If you're passionate about making a positive impact on our youth and community, we'd love to have you on board.

What are the future plans for SOOFA Ranch?

We're incredibly excited about the future of SOOFA Ranch and the Ride Strong Multi-Use Center. Our vision is to expand our facilities to offer a wider range of programs, including vocational training, leadership workshops, and more comprehensive mental health support services. This expansion will allow us to reach even more young people in need and provide them with the tools and opportunities to thrive.

How can someone support SOOFA Ranch?

Supporting SOOFA Ranch can take many forms, and every little bit truly helps. Whether it's through volunteering your timemaking a financial contribution, or simply spreading the word about our work, your support is invaluable. We also encourage folks to participate in our fundraising events and consider sponsoring a horse or a youth participant. Together, we can make a lasting impact on the lives of young people and our community.


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