KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo nonprofit Urban Alliance is bringing back a series of youth day camps this summer aimed at changing the narrative surrounding gun violence.

James Harris, who is the outreach manager for Urban Alliance, said the life camps, now in their second year, help kids and young adults reshape how they think about guns and their own two hands.

“It’s not necessarily the gun that hurts people, it’s the hand that the gun is in,” Harris said. “If we can change the narrative about the purpose of gun usage, we believe that we can help kids to just rethink pulling that trigger.”

The theme of the camps is “Hands are Meant to Heal, Not Kill.” Organizers believe around 150 kids between the ages of 11 and 16 will take part in discussions and activities designed to help them avoid cycles of gun violence. The goal is to teach them what’s acceptable and not when using a gun. Activities include shooting paintball guns at non-human targets and having a NERF or water gun fight.

“In that, once you shoot the paintball, gun, once you shoot the NERF ball gun, once you shoot the water gun… no one is hurt. You’re not looking for the police. You’re not about to do prison time. You’re still free,” Harris said. “Again, (we’re) just helping them rethink the usage of guns.”

Attendees will also hear from and engage in discussions with local law enforcement, county administration and survivors of gun violence. Harris said another planned activity involves kids writing letters of compassion to potential shooters, encouraging them not to the pull the trigger. He explained it as an opportunity to get their emotions on paper.

“In other words, from our standpoint, we care about our community,” Harris explained. “We care about contemplators or perpetrators. We want you to care about yourself, so we’re trying to encourage individuals who may be a part of that type of activity to stop. And what voice to better come from than kids?”

Life Camps will be 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the following days and locations:

  • June 13, Tree of Life School, 2001 Cameron St.
  • July 11, Trenches Community Church, 1003 Gayle Ave.
  • Aug. 8, Douglass Community Association, 1000 W. Patterson St

The free camps include meals, materials and equipment. Parents and guardians are required to register by June 9 at this link.

Attendees and community members are also encouraged to participate in a youth-led community march Saturdays before each camp. Those will be at noon, when those interested can gather at the following:

  • June 10, Urban Alliance, 1009 E. Stockbridge Ave.
  • July 8, at Eastside Neighborhood Association, 1301 E. Main St.
  • Aug. 5, at Douglass Community Association, 1000 W. Patterson St.

Every march will be followed by family-friendly events, including live music and a community grill out.

Harris hopes all of this educates, encourages and empowers youth through a refreshed perspective.

“They are a key component to what’s happening in their community,” he said. “I just want to encourage (our youth to) allow the community to celebrate you, value you and give you a platform. Because that’s what we’re really trying to do: give young people a platform for their voice to be heard, because their voice is very powerful.”