Nevaeh Patt moved with her family from Oregon to Boulder not long before the mass shooting at the Table Mesa King Soopers that killed 10 people on March 22, 2021. Looking back on that day, the 14-year-old Boulder High student remembers feeling helpless in her new town.  

“I was just starting to get to know people, actually. So it was very overwhelming,” she says. “And I felt very scared, because I’d been to that store so many times. That could have happened to me if I went there on that exact day. That’s probably what everybody felt.”

Those shared feelings of fear and anxiety are what Patt and her peers in the Youth Leadership Healing Committee (YLHC) hope to untangle during the upcoming Healing Day of Remembrance at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) on Saturday, April 2. 

The youth-led event at the downtown gallery will feature interactive stations for art-making, conversation, journaling and more. The idea is to facilitate emotional wellness in the wake of collective trauma, according to Mara Mintzer, co-founder and executive director of Growing Up Boulder, a child- and youth-focused city initiative launched in a 2009 partnership between the University of Colorado, the City of Boulder and Boulder Valley School District.

“All the different senses will be incorporated into ways of teaching and allowing people to heal themselves and also create community connections,” Mintzer says of the upcoming YLHC event. “This is what the young people have designed. We’ve put the support in place for them to be able to design it, but it’s completely their vision.”

For Patt, that vision includes carving space for people to process complex and painful emotions. She’ll be part of a team leading visitors in meditation and quiet conversation. Other stations include a primer on grounding techniques through scent and texture, and a visual art exercise with a prompt: Draw a place that makes you feel calm.

“The last couple of years, people have been feeling very unsafe, with the shooting happening and also the loss of houses [due to the Marshall Fire] and Covid,” Patt says. “So I really want people to feel like they have a voice, and we are here to hear them.”

Mintzer, whose local child advocacy nonprofit formed the YLHC in partnership with Mayamotion Healing, the Renée Crown Wellness Institute and funding from Community Foundation Boulder County, says the upcoming event is designed for all ages — but the city’s younger residents, like Patt, are at its heart. 

This youth-centered focus comes at a critical time for young people in Boulder County. The Covid-19 pandemic intensified adolescent mental health issues that were already on the rise. Emergency department visits for suicidal ideation among residents ages 10-17 topped 329 in 2021, a 41% increase over 2020, according to a Boulder County Public Health presentation to the Boulder City Council on Feb. 22, 2022. 

“We know there are really big, hard feelings caused by the many, many layers our young people are experiencing right now,” Mintzer says. “It’s really about asking, ‘How can you deal with those hard feelings?’”

Youth Leadership Healing Committee (YLHC) members work on a project for the upcoming Healing Day of Remembrance at Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday, April 2. Courtesy: Mara Mintzer

‘I want people to know there’s always going to be someone there for them.’

Working through the emotions that come after a devastating shock like a mass shooting can be tough when everyday vocabulary falls short in capturing the senselessness and magnitude of the loss. That’s why the YLHC chose the avenue of artistic expression for its Healing Day of Remembrance.

“It’s sometimes hard to put into words what we’re feeling — especially for younger children. Art is a really great way for them to communicate more of what’s going on in their mind,” Mintzer says. “There’s a lot of research that shows when you’re able to name your emotions and describe them, it actually helps you connect with them and also work through them.”

The April 2 event at BMoCA is only the start of what Minzter hopes is a sustained campaign of emotional wellness, led by the youth in the community who’ve been through so much in such a short amount of time. 

“This is just the first part of really hearing from young people about what is helpful to them and what is not helpful to them in terms of healing,” Mintzer says. “We want to make sure we’re offering more opportunities for that healing to happen.”

But while that process is ongoing, Patt, the Boulder High ninth grader, says the act of forming new relationships with her peers as they take the lead in helping their neighbors heal has been a transformative experience on its own.

“The group has helped me figure out who I want to be, and I’ve made friends who understand,” she says. “I want to be an impactful person who helps people, and I want people to know there’s always going to be someone there for them.”

Future YLHC events will take place throughout the year, guided by feedback from participating youth and the public at large. But for local teens like Patt, the committee’s inaugural Healing Day of Remembrance is a special opportunity to connect with her community in the shadow of a painful anniversary — and to share what she’s learned in her young life about dealing with disaster. 

“What I do is I live through the moment,” she says. “Then I kind of level up my fear and just hope that something happens, and something gets better.”

The YLHC Healing Day of Remembrance takes place at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (1750 13th St.) on April 2, 2022, 10 a.m.–noon. Learn more here

Archived work by Jezy Grazy for Boulder Reporting Lab.