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'Crime is still happening around them' | Center helps DC kids traumatized by violence survive coronavirus trauma

The TraRon Center is offering counseling by phone to D.C. kids living in the thick of gun violence.

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus pandemic hasn't stopped the constant gun violence facing children in D.C.'s Southeast neighborhood. So, a center that has long been a haven for them is making sure kids get the counseling they need to get through it — at home.

"Crime is still happening around them," said Ryane Nickens, who founded the TraRon Center, located in Southeast. "They’re trying to deal with this new norm, and they just need somebody to talk to."

As of April 1, D.C. Police reported 37 homicides, compared to 39 at the same time last year.

"Anxieties are high," she said. "You don’t know what tomorrow will bring."

Nickens said they paired up some of their counseling interns from the University of the District of Columbia with students who tested for the highest level of PTSD, like third grader Aiyden Wiggins.

Aiyden and his sister have been going to the center for years. They've had friends killed by guns and often hear shots outside their windows.

The nine-year-old said that happened Tuesday night.

“Last night, there was just shooting," he said. "I was scared. I was sleeping in the living room, and I was scared, so I got down, and I turned the lights off. Then, I had a blanket on top of me.”

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Credit: Jess Arnold
Aiyden Wiggins, 9, holds up a chart of emoji emotions, which he uses in counseling sessions at the TraRon Center.

Counseling interns, like Tyonna Belle, help kids like Aiyden process this trauma — with the added struggle of having to stay home.

“The pandemic is not stopping what he’s going through, so continuing to give him the therapy, the services he needs is awesome," Belle said.

On a three-way video chat with Aiyden and WUSA 9 reporter Jess Arnold, Belle suggested doing meditation multiple times a day to train his body to remain calm in the face of triggers.

"Meditation is not just for when you need to be calm, but meditation is also a healthy thing to do every day, because your brain needs that exercise also, and your brain needs to let go of that stress, the negative emotions that you have," Belle told Aiyden.

The third grader said advice like this has been helpful. He's using it to get through the "scary" nights and "boring" days.

But — he can't wait to get back to rejoin his friends at the center.

Nickens said they're also helping families with groceries and procuring the laptops their kids now need to learn. She said their donors have been helpful, but they could use more assistance.

She expects their students to be behind at the end of this school year, so she anticipates extending their summer camp for extra learning opportunities.

You can donate directly on the center's site here.

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