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Close to Home: Building a path for healing Santa Rosa community

Our community has experienced the loss of a child under tragic circumstances that have raised many questions for us as a community and as a society.

The grief and loss suffered by the parents and family of Andy Lopez is unimaginable. The grief and loss suffered by the friends and classmates of Andy Lopez are also unimaginable.

As a city, as a county, as a school district, and as a community, including our law enforcement community, we also suffer this same grief and loss and begin the search to find answers to the many questions that have been raised, seeking ways to make changes that may be necessary to make sure this type of tragedy never happens again.

Our community is doing a bit of soul searching. The voice of anger and frustration has clearly been heard in the large demonstrations and marches on the streets of Santa Rosa and the surrounding county neighborhoods. Hundreds have gathered in the chilling cold for evening vigils to console the overwhelming sadness of Andy Lopez's family, friends, classmates and neighbors. Community conversations have been held to grapple with the complexities surrounding the investigative process. Government officials, school officials and community members have been challenged to formulate a meaningful response to this unprecedented tragedy.

Simple words of kindness seem so inadequate at times like this. And the conversations and debates will continue for many months with important actions ultimately to be taken.

The day after the shooting, more than 20 service providers and community?-based organizations gathered at the Steele Lane Community Center for a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss violence prevention. Also present were representatives from schools, law enforcement, city and county staff. This multidisciplinary group identifies itself as the operational team, an extension of the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force. The Operational Team has been meeting every month for the past seven years to address issues related to youth violence, gang affiliation and community safety.

At the meeting that day, service providers and staff shared what they were already doing to help the community deal with the crisis. In less than 24 hours, members of the operational team had met with Andy's parents at their home, expanded program hours and services on the school sites, were conducting street outreach to debunk numerous rumors that were surfacing, while also providing individual and group mental health counseling to youth who wanted and needed to begin processing the devastating grief they were feeling.

Many of these service providers are funded by the City's Measure O choice grant program administered by the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force.

Although the official message from the city may have been muddied by the multiple activities involving the investigative role of the Santa Rosa Police Department, and the attention to overall public safety during the several demonstrations and marches on the streets of Santa Rosa, the fact is, our response has been clear: Keep a focus on the youth and families most impacted by this tragedy by ensuring the coordination of services and resources that can help begin the healing process.

As we move along the pathway toward healing, there may be additional challenges, but the care and compassion demonstrated by our community over the past month gives us the hope we that we need to continue the healing through these trying times — together.

<i>Scott Bartley is mayor of Santa Rosa. Kathy Millison is Santa Rosa's city manager.</i>


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