‘They need love’: Rochester organization mentors youth who have lost family to violence

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A local organization in Rochester is helping youth heal after losing a family member to violence.  

Sirena Cotton started Youth for Peace three years ago after her youngest son was murdered when he was just 16-years-old. 

She says it’s important there is a support system in place for the youth’s siblings.

“When a youth is murdered, the focus is more on the parents and everyone forgets that the youth has siblings,” Cotton said. “With my older boys, I noticed the PTSD, everything they were going through because they felt like they weren’t there to protect their baby brother.”

Jaylin Wilder is a part of the program. She lost her father two years ago. 

“I was 10 when I lost him,” Wilder said. “He got beaten to death.”

The 12-year-old said her dad was a great person and liked to have fun. Now Wilder and dozens of other kids with Youth for Peace lean on one another because of their shared experiences. 

“The youth come together and they are with other youth that are going through the same thing that they are going through so it’s easier to talk about what they have got going on,” Cotton said. 

Wilder says she has made a lot of good friends she can relate to through the program.

“Just connect to them, how they are, how they lost them, and ask them questions,” Wilder said. 

Youth for Peace has become even more important with the rise in violence across the city. Rochester has seen 39 homicides already this year and a lot of the crime has involved youth.

“The siblings are suffering, the young folks are suffering, and a lot of the violence you see is with young folks, and it’s getting to the point where the youth are getting numb,” Cotton said. “They need love.”

Youth for Peace is aimed at keeping children and teens away from violence, while they heal from the loss in their own lives. Cotton says people who have had their own journey are the mentors. 

“The mentors consist of folks who have spent time in jail so that they have been out there and turned their life around and they can actually talk to the kids and give them something to look forward to,” Cotton said.

Youth for Peace meets about once a month. The program is part of the organization Roc the Peace and is always looking for more mentors to help youth grow. 

The annual Roc the Peace festival is being held on July 24th at Jones Square Park from 12-6 p.m.

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