AKRON, Ohio — Dozens of families gathered at the Akron Public Library Monday night, but they didn’t want to be there. They were there for the Summit County Victim Assistance Program Angel Tree Ceremony.
“None of us really should be here today. We should be able to hug our loved ones, spend time with them, enjoy this time with them and here we are in mourning,” Yalaunda Dortch said.
Dortch lost her 21-year-old daughter, Teyaurra Harris, in April this year. She was caught in the crossfire of gun violence in Akron.
“She was an innocent bystander to the shooting that was taking place at the time. She succumbed to her injuries,” Dortch said.
The victim assistance program serves 5,000 people each year who have lost loved ones to violent crime. Leanne Graham is the President and CEO.
“We provide advocacy and education services to people who have experienced tragedy in their lives, whether it’s related to a crime or a traumatic incident,” she said. “We provide a space of comfort for these individuals and family to come and remember those who have lost their lives to trauma.”
On Monday, December 5, the group held their 29th annual Angel Tree Ceremony.
“We provide a space of comfort for these individuals and this family to come and remember those who have lost their lives to trauma,” Graham said.
At the library, a display that reads “Gone but not Forgotten” shows hundreds of photos of victims who have lost their lives over the past three decades.
“Families from 20 years ago, families who lost a loved one last week,” Graham said.
No matter how much time has passed, the pain is still raw for many as they write their loved one’s name on an angel ornament and hang it on Christmas trees throughout the library.
“So that she’s not there, you’re constantly thinking about her, you constantly want to call her, go see her, but you can’t do that,” Teyaurra Harris’ sister Dyani Harris said. “Everything changes and you change at the same time you lose someone who is so close to you.”
Akron, in particular, has had a violent and difficult year in the schools and on the streets.
Mayor Dan Horrigan and his Director of Youth and Community Opportunities, Denico Buckley-Knight, attended the Angel Tree Ceremony.
“The city put together a program pretty quickly with American Rescue Plan Act money, not only to address youth violence, but also youth opportunities and how we do it,” said Horrigan. “Non-profits are doing a great job towards that end to reduce violence in schools and on the ground and how we fund these non-profits, to me, is ground work that needs to be done. .”
Buckley-Knight said they work to fund these nonprofits and address violence at home, in schools and in the community.
“I too have suffered from incidents of community violence,” Buckley-Knight said. “Every time we lose a life, especially a young life, we all have to deal with the negative effects of that.”
Dortch said his family would never be the same without Teyaurra, but hopes that each year at the Angel Tree ceremony there will be fewer and fewer new photos and names displayed.
Graham told anyone suffering this holiday season, or at any time, to call them at 330-376-0040
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