All youth deserve safe spaces where they can spend time with friends, build relationships with trusted adults, and feel seen and appreciated by their community. In 2023, on New Year’s Eve (NYE), that is exactly what Illuminate Colorado, in collaboration with Compound of Compassion, set out to do. 

In 2020, Shana Shaw (below), the founder of Compound of Compassion and a member of the Colorado Youth Thrive Collaborativeas well as Illuminate’s Circle of Parents Specialty Program Manager, as of October 2023gathered a panel of youth who explained that kids need safe spaces where they could be with their friends, have fun, and not have to worry about the threat of gun violence.

Safe Zones are events that were initially created and facilitated by Compound of Compassion in 2021 in response to rising youth violence in Aurora, Colorado. As the backbone support of the Colorado Youth Thrive Collaborative, Illuminate was proud to facilitate and co-host this year’s Safe Zone Shut-In. 

The 2023 Safe Zone Shut-In was a great success, with over 50 people of all ages participating to create a safe space where youth could have a special experience with their peers to ring in the New Year. The event is led by youth, for youth, and offers a time to focus on hope, the future, setting goals, and being nourished by positive energy. At its core, the event is about the community creating Positive Childhood Experiences and spaces for youth to build Protective Factors with each other, as well as celebrating the emotional and social support that youth have created for themselves and for each other.

With the help of volunteers and donations from community agencies, the event had nearly 20 youth-led activities available to keep young people engaged throughout the night. Allowing youth to take the lead in choosing and facilitating activities was critical for creating buy-in from youth, helping to foster an event that was a genuine experience that they felt ownership over.

Activities (and dancing!) keep participants engaged

This year’s event started out with Shana leading the group in sharing a wish for themselves and a wish for the world, as a way to set intentions for the year to come.

Protective Factor-building activities such as vision boards, gratitude chats, mindful rock painting, glitter jars, tie-dye pillow cases, and STEM challenges were facilitated by several  youth who are on their way towards becoming Youth Thrive for Youth trainers. Everyone had a bingo card with activities designed to build the Five Protective Factors, which youth completed throughout the night by engaging in different activities.

The Five Protective Factors Are:

  • Youth Resilience

  • Social Connections

  • Knowledge of Adolescent Development

  • Build Concrete Support in Times of Need

  • Cognitive and Social-Emotional Competence

During the Shut-In, a group of three youth who had never met before, worked on a STEM challenge for nearly an hour. Missy Berglund, a volunteer at the event and Illuminate Colorado’s Senior Education Program Manager, enjoyed watching how excited the group was to show everyone their work when they finally achieved their goal. This, Missy explained, is an example of how the Shut-In builds the Protective Factors: by meeting new peers, overcoming a challenge, and accessing the support and excitement of the community. Simply put, youth are building their resilience in a way that feels like fun.

Another highlight of the night was when a volunteera former teachertaught attendees a line dance. This kind of activity builds cross-generational relationships which are important for building healthy lives. 

Almost all of the youth took naps during the event, but there was one young person who didn’t sleep. He stayed up and played games and did more STEM challenges with the volunteers. He left tired, but with a smile on his face. 

Adult volunteers provided a healthy, nourishing environment

A dedicated group of volunteers, including some Illuminate staff, made the event possible. To ensure the event fostered a healthy, nurturing environment for youth, all volunteers completed the Spreading HOPE and Lines in the Sand trainings. These trainings gave volunteers the knowledge and tools they need to center positive experiences and reduce the risk of child sexual abuse through clear boundaries and limits.

The information shared in both of these trainings allows community members to go forward creating and building safer communities that honor the needs of children and families to achieve positive long term well-being outcomes. These live, virtual trainings are available for free for all Coloradans!

Register for an upcoming training:

202405Feb12:00 pm1:50 pmCommunity HOPE Training12:00 pm - 1:50 pm(GMT-07:00) View in my timeEvent OverVirtual Event14 Guests are attending

202423Feb2:00 pm4:00 pmLines in the Sand Training2:00 pm - 4:00 pm(GMT-07:00) View in my timeVirtual Event

Before coming to Illuminate, I had no idea what the Protective Factors were, but after participating in this event, I realized how crucial the Protective Factors are for our young people. I wish I had known about them when I was younger, and I was so proud to be a part of making them accessible to youth in our community,” said Illuminate’s Grants & Events Manager, Christina Ambrose, who stayed up all night participating in activities with youth.

The future of NYE Safe Zone Shut-Ins

The ultimate vision for the NYE Shut-Ins is to ensure that every youth and young adult has a safe space to spend NYE with their community. Based on the incredible impact these events have had in Aurora, Safe Zones are sure to thrive with support from youth, organizations, and community members across Colorado. Illuminate Colorado is both honored and excited to support these events in the future!

A big thank you to the sponsors of the 2023 Safe Zone Shut-In: Becky Hogan, Mosaic Unlimited, Korea Town Aurora, Evergreen Foundation, the Aurora Rotary, the Aurora Police Department Community Relations Department, and Jerusalem’s Restaurant.

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