The struggle comes in many forms on the east side of Pueblo, but gangs, drugs and prostitution are at the top of the list of the many issues that flood our streets.

As Christmas comes to an end and we bring in the new year, I wanted to take the time to look at what the fine people of the east side have to be thankful for.

Grants, donations, and volunteers are a good start but we need more than solutions by day and ignorance at night.

From my experience of growing up in the east side and my continued effort to work with this community, the kids in this area are extremely thankful for the few things they do have. For the hard-working parents of the east side, they were able to provide an ample experience for their kids this season, but they couldn’t guarantee the safest experience or even the most educational experience as we move forward into 2016.

Just weeks after the echoes of gunshots were heard around the lower east side and the safety of our community made the headlines, families have been trying hard to move on without letting this ruin their holiday season, but what family doesn’t let this sit in the back of their minds? I know I will be weary to let my kids play in the front yard, when frequent sounds of gunshots seem to be the soundtrack to the everyday life in the east side of Pueblo, Colorado.

Honestly, it seems like it’s easier to talk about what the east side community isn’t thankful for. There’s drug dealers on our streets, there’s prostitutes in disguise that we pass as we make a quick visit to the local convenient store. There is recent increase in gang activity around the east side and there’s innocent kids walking around that soak up all of this negativity like a sponge.

For me, there’s El Centro kids and those who don’t come around El Centro Del Quinto Sol. They are both deserving of a chance to better themselves but for some escaping family life is more important than school, or staying out of trouble. Too few understand that when a kid fights a rough home life, they don’t fight for a better future.

The negativity going on around our youth is so frequent that it makes it an easy target, but underneath the rubble, there’s a lot of good things going on. Though it might be hard to find, families are providing for their kids and most of the hard work is going on inside of the homes. These kids either live too far from places like El Centro, the library and the Boys & Girls Club to risk walking there, or they choose not to go, they rely on parents who are working nonstop. While some may look down on these families, working to provide for your kids at all costs, is a east side trait and one instilled in many of these families.

Children in these families study at home with little or no help. To keep busy, they find things to do around the house. While young, they still make the decision to stay off the streets and do positive things, it just goes unnoticed by us.

What we do notice, is the negativity.

For instance, there was a kid, I’ll call him “Smiley” who would come around El Centro sporadically but was banned after writing graffiti on the center’s property. After months, he showed up one day to and tried to fight a staff member. Once again he was asked to leave until he would be willing to sit down and talk. Well, that day never came.

Last I seen him he was running drugs and hangs around older gang members. He’s 13-years-old and his best way out of a tough life is to choose a tough life.

In the forgotten place that our community calls home, the east side is finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. Slowly, but surely, some positive changes are coming to this side of town. We now have a library to entertain these young minds, we have a new skate park to keep our kids off of the streets and El Centro is going through some renovations that will provide our kids with some much needed resources. This is the type of hope our kids need and maybe now they stand a chance.

But many of these changes cannot address the larger problem of why life is hard on the east side. Grants, donations, and volunteers are a good start but we need more than solutions by day and ignorance at night.

We need to invest in our youth and I really do think some people around Pueblo are starting to catch on. When you look at our community as a whole, we are only as strong as the kids we have left behind. So, ask yourself, what am I doing to help the disadvantaged kids in my own backyard?

Sincerely,

Your neighbor