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AURORA STRONG RESILIENCE CENTER

Aurora Strong Resilience Center: Community Healing In Action

In the wake of the Aurora theater shootings, community members, elected officials, and mental health professionals came together to create a dedicated space for wellness and support, both for those who’d been in the theater and others in the community in need of healing. The Aurora Strong Resilience Center opened its doors over a year ago, offering a warm and welcoming space, therapists on site, facilitated support groups, and even a ping-pong table. Staff members were ready for people who’d experienced trauma during the movie theater shooting, as victims of crime, or in their countries of origin prior to coming to the United States as refugees.

The only problem?

The people didn’t show up.

But today, over one year later, more than 600 people a month visit the Center for therapy, yoga, art classes, faith-based discussion groups, and other wellness activities. The Resilience Center, along with the small recreation center and public library operated at the same location, is now a vibrant community resource.

What changed?

The Resilience Center put leadership in the hands of the community.

“People didn’t want to hear from us – they wanted to hear from each other,” says Kirsten Anderson, the Disaster Coordinator with Aurora Mental Health Center. She and the other staff at the Center made room for just that.

With the help of a grant from The Denver Foundation, survivors themselves stepped into new leadership roles by facilitating groups and classes, helping to build a supportive community, and creating connections that facilitate their own healing. A support group led by a survivor of the theater shooting, now broadened to include the many refugees in Aurora who have also experienced violence and trauma, was one of the initial offerings that catalyzed this change.

“There’s incredible power that comes when people are given the space and support to make change for themselves and their neighbors,” says Adrienne Mansanares. “That’s what we see with so many of our Leadership & Equity grantees, like the Aurora Strong Resilience Center, who are providing training and opportunities for diverse community members to use their leadership skills and share their talents.”

If you visit the Center today, here’s what you’ll see: in a Tai Chi class lead by a Columbine survivor, people who were in the Aurora theater practice alongside recent immigrants from China. In the lobby, you’ll find women from Darfur and their daughters, preparing for a global arts festival. A Nepalese man teaches yoga on Friday nights, because he believes in the power of yoga to heal and build community. On Thursdays, a massage therapist who was in the theater the night of the shooting volunteers his in-demand services.

Speaking of the massage therapist, Ms. Anderson says, “He’s become empowered. It’s helped him feel like, out of this horrible event, he’s able to better himself and create a new beginning.”

What started as a response to a tragedy has evolved to become a community-led resource for wellness. Diverse people are both participants and volunteers, learning, healing, and leading.

As Grace Zolnosky, the Resilience Center’s Manager, puts it, “Every time someone comes in the door, more ideas come in.”

There’s room for even more offerings: a small group of veterans are considering starting a PTSD group. Iraqi refugees want more opportunities for massage therapy during the day.

The Resilience Center has become a place of love, healing, and strength – and the source of that strength is the dedication and leadership of people in the community.

If you want to help The Resilience Center, or to learn more, visit their website at www.aurorastrong.org.