Local advocate and therapist team up to help youth who have been impacted by gun violence

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Gun violence has impacted hundreds of families across our area this year. It’s taking a toll on everyone, especially some of our youth. 

A local activist and licensed therapist have teamed up to help them heal. 

Justin Morris and Megan Clifford are supporting youth and their families who have been impacted by gun violence. 

Justin Morris is an activist and the President of the Rochester Chapter of the Arc of Justice. Megan Clifford is a licensed therapist and founder of the Wellness Associates of Greater Rochester. The two friends decided after all the shootings recently in Rochester, they needed to do something. 

“It’s the most important, pressing issue in our community… the uptick in violence and I think that we have to be intentional about addressing that and I think that starts with our young people,” Morris said. 

Their partnership works like this: Morris reaches out to families who have been impacted by violence. He says he knows about 70 percent of the people in Rochester and has relationships with many. 

“Building those organic relationships, getting people to trust you on all levels, opening up your line, having that dialogue so when these particular occurrences happen, it’s not even second nature for them to reach out,” Morris said. 

He then refers these families or individuals to speak with Clifford. As a licensed therapist, Clifford uses her skillsets to build organic relationships with victims or their families and she talks them through their experiences. 

“I’d say it’s a little non-traditional from what most people would think of as going to psychotherapy. I’m building relationships, I’m building connection in a place where these individuals can feel safe. To tell their stories,” Clifford said. “They may want to talk about something completely different, but it’s really just having a space where my attention is on them and hearing and holding their story and I think that’s what’s made it most effective.

Shootings are often traumatic for kids, especially if they lose a family member or friend. 

“When I see any acting out behaviors or difficult behaviors or violent behaviors I see a person who’s hurting. I see a person who’s traumatized,” Clifford said. “Anytime somebody can come to a place and talk to somebody who can provide even a small little bit of safety it can be very impactful and that connection then can build a relationship which leads to a place where maybe different decisions can be made.”

Morris says it’s important they work with kids because they are the foundation of the community. 

“We have a gross issue in our community as it relates to the youth and there is a lot of reactive work. There is not a lot of preventive work that is happening in our community, meaningful preventative work,” Morris said. “Your youth are always going to be your foundation because they are the next step up and if you can address some of these issues at the root and at the foundation, we can see a better result for the years to come.”

Morris and Clifford are also working on plans to train community members on how to respond to mental health crises. 

“If I see someone on the street in a traumatic situation and I am equipped with the tools to be able to help that person as it relates to that person, as it relates to me, and it’s comfortable for me and the individual that I am dealing it, now I have the skillsets to talk them down instead of the police having to come in and intervene in a situation that might not require the police to be there,” Morris explained. 

The two plan to offer these training classes to all community members. 

“We want people like faith community leaders, we want people like barbers and hair stylists. We want people who are in the community, who live in the community, who know community members… to be able to have this skillset,” Clifford said. “They’re the ones who are going to connect on that fundamental level.”

Clifford said they are currently ready to begin training community members on Mental Health First Aid, but they are working on getting additional funding. 

The classes would be 8 hours and would focus on youth module for those ages 12 to 18. 

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