West Austin Development Center Credit: West Austin Development Center/Facebook

AUSTIN — West Side officials and organizers are coming together to address mental trauma from gun violence in young children after recent shootings near a preschool.

The Austin-based Preschool Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Program, or P3, will host the meeting with lawmakers and violence intervention groups 6 p.m. Wednesday at 230 N. Kolmar Ave. Organizers plan to speak out against gun violence and offer free health services to children in the community dealing with gun-related trauma. Neighbors are invited.

Representatives from the Institute for NonViolence Chicago, Breakthrough Ministries and Acclivus will speak at the event, which is sponsored by Rep. La Shawn Ford and Ald. Jason Ervin (29th).

P3 Program Director Tonja Brown said staff and children at the West Austin Development Center, 4920 W. Madison St., have been rattled by three nearby shootings within the past two weeks.

Two occurred within a block of the school: A 20-year old woman was killed 10:15 a.m. March 30 in the 4800 block of West Madison Street, and two men were wounded 4:50 p.m April 3 in the 4900 block of West Madison, police said.

“We have an outside playground that we can’t use because we are afraid of the children getting hurt,” Brown said. “Nobody should live like this.” 

P3 has about 200 patients and is accepting applicants for therapy and other treatments regardless of a person’s age, insurance or ability to pay. Addressing gun violence is critical to Black community members’ survival in the neighborhood, Brown said.

“Our community will no longer exist if we do nothing to change this,” Brown said. “We have to do something to let our families know that there is help available. We have people fighting out there to make things better.”

Violence interrupters say prolonged exposure to gun violence can desensitize children to violence, which leads to depression, increased aggression, social withdrawal and other mental health complications.

Ford said he hopes the event can convince more people of color to participate in the P3 program and create more urgency in the community to break cycles of trauma.

“We know that when you respond to trauma, people are able to heal. When people don’t have an outlet for their pain, they respond by hurting others,” Ford said. “We have to be on the same page of doing everything we can to help people heal. They need to know there’s help there and not feel ashamed to seek it.”

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