In response to an unprecedented spike in gun violence this year, one district in Miami launched a summer camp program to protect at-risk children and teenagers.
SafeSummers partnered with seven local community-based organizations to offer full-time summer programming to nearly 400 children and teens in District 8 of Miami-Dade County, an area with high crime and poverty rates. Violence is up 15% in the first half of 2021 compared to last year, according to the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Darlene Dukes, a Miami-Dade County resident who lost her 24-year-old daughter to gun violence in May, said she believes parents must involve their children with the community.
"It starts with the village," said Katina Major, another Miami-Dade County resident who lost multiple family members to gun violence. "It takes a community to raise the children, not just parents."
Because many parents have to work to make ends meet, children are often left at home with minimal or no supervision, making them susceptible to gun violence, said Pastor Xavier Jones, who is operating one of the SafeSummers camps.
The camps, which run for nearly 11 hours a day, keep children who may be otherwise exposed to violent crimes off the streets, said Danielle Cohen Higgins, a member of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners who piloted the program.
"This is not a day care," said Jones. In addition to field trips, literacy and physical activities, the camp also teaches children about conflict resolution and peer mediation -- ways to mitigate violence.
Numerous research studies, including one published by the World Health Organization in 2015, have found strong ties to schools or community and non-deviant peers to be effective protective factors against youth violence.
"We visited some of these summer camps. We've seen the smiles on these children's faces, and we see that they are occupied, they're engaged and they're learning throughout the summer, which we know will help keep them out of trouble," said Cohen Higgins.
The program furnished camps with more than $250,000 so that parents who don't have the funds to enroll their children in summer programs can do so free of cost.
Cohen Higgins added that the program is designed to channel all participating students to other long-term programs beyond summer.
"We as a country need to start shifting our narrative away from removing guns from everybody and having that discussion and instead investing in our youth," said Cohen Higgins.
ABC News' Sabina Ghebremedhin and Julia Aubuchon contributed to this report.