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Project Ujima: Milwaukee's holistic support program for youth victims of violence

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Children's Wisconsin
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Project Ujima youth participants use art therapy as a way to process their experiences.

Milwaukee is seeing an increase in deadly homicides this year compared to 2021. This increase in violence creates a growing need for its survivors to be cared for both physically as well as mentally.

Project Ujima is a program through Children’s Wisconsin that supports youth victims of violence and their families and provides them with treatment to holistically recover from their various levels of trauma. Through mentorship and support groups, Project Ujima aims to care for the whole individual.

Founded in 1996, Project Ujima's tagline is "working together to make things right," as described by Project Ujima manager, Brooke Cheaton.

"[Project Ujima] began after a young man was treated in the Children's Wisconsin Emergency department multiple times for a variety of injuries—some accidental, some purposeful at the hands of others, or as a result of community violence," says Cheaton.

This same individual regularly needing treatment was an indication to his medical professionals that there were other factors that needed to be addressed to help keep children in Milwaukee healthy and safe.

"The team at Children Wisconsin decided they wanted to do something other than just treat his physical injuries, but the social, emotional [needs] and just community violence entirely," says Cheaton.

Project Ujima offers services for victims of violence and their families, such as housing and food, and mental support, such as counseling and support groups. They work closely with the Children's Hospital Emergency Department to obtain most of their referrals. As patients enter for treatment, their need for further assistance is determined by the medical staff, and then Project Ujima is notified and responds.

The program is designed to be goal-oriented as opposed to instructional. Cheaton says, "We work on anything that the family or child wants to work on. It's not a program where we tell them what they need to. It's voluntary. So when they're ready, they tell us and we support them on that".

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Mallory Cheng joined WUWM as a producer for Lake Effect in 2021.
Robert Larry joined WUWM in 2022 as a digital producer.
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