MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- They are the most vulnerable victims of violent crime. Hundreds of children pass through the emergency room every year -- and one hospital is helping to not only heal their wounds, but also, their hearts.
There are moments in every life that are unforgettable, that define who we are.
"I was always the big guy. When I was a kid, I'd get everything I want. Toys galore. My mom always told me to stick by your family, not your friends. We went to Walt Disney World. It was hot, very hot -- 80s, 90s -- but we had fun though," 21-year-old Jonathan Baldwin said.
Then, there is the memory from the summer after his junior year.
"It kind of knocked me off, what happened, but I made it through," Baldwin said.
It was July 26th, 2009. Baldwin was 17 years old. He was hanging out with his cousins and siblings at a family reunion.
"We were just sitting back, chilling. It was around maybe 11," Baldwin remembers.
Suddenly, they were ambushed.
"Two guys just came out of nowhere and they both had guns," Baldwin said.
The masked criminals demanded money and held a gun to a younger cousin's head.
"There were too many people. I already knew they were going to try to shoot one of us," Baldwin said.
Baldwin stepped in. The 6'8" teenager tried to take some heat.
The scuffle escalated quickly.
"We were tussling. I tripped and I got back up and they shot me," Baldwin said.
Baldwin was shot seven times. Four bullets hit his stomach, and three hit his thighs.
"There's no time to think. You don't even feel the bullets going in. That's how fast it is. You don't feel it at all," Baldwin said.
Before dialing 911, Baldwin called his mom.
"He called me and he said 'mom, I've been shot.' I could only speak above a whisper because it felt like it was an out-of-body experience," Baldwin's mother, Jackie Holland-Baldwin remembers.
"I blacked out," Baldwin said.
"All I could see was blood. I didn`t know if he was going to make it, so..." Holland-Baldwin said.
Baldwin was rushed to Children's Hospital. He woke up in a bed, surrounded by doctors -- and someone else critical to his healing.
"At first, they prayed with me. They asked me if I want to talk to them. I said 'yeah, I`ll talk to them,'" Baldwin said.
A representative from Project Ujima asked if he could help.
"I wouldn't be here. I know one thing, I wouldn`t be here. Without that support, I don`t know what life would`ve turned out to be," Baldwin said.
The support group is part of Children's Hospital. Counselors work with patients who are traumatized by violent acts.
"We want to make sure that we put back their heart pieces and heal them from the inside out," Toni Rivera-Joachin, a counseling manager with Project Ujima said.
The program works to end the cycle of violence. It started after high volumes of kids came into the emergency room, time after time.
"It`s important because violence touches everyone. It`s not just about the kids who are victimized. There`s a ripple-effect in our community," Rivera-Joachin said.
"We say 'you`re not a bad kid. This bad thing happened to you and we`re going to help you get through it,'" Marlene Melzer, the Medical Director for Children's Hospital said.
Project Ujima helps more than 300 children and their families each year. The program includes 24/7 counselors who help victims of violence to understand that revenge is not the answer.
There is a less than one percent recidivism rate for patients Project Ujima sees.
"One of the main goals of our program along with supporting young is making sure they don`t get hurt again," Melzer said.
Baldwin got counseling and went to camps and support groups.
"They just love you. They just bring you in," Baldwin said.
The program helped Baldwin to work through feelings of anger and stopped him from retaliating.
"I thought about it. Why would I spend time in jail when these people are out free?" Baldwin said.
Four years later, Baldwin continues to be involved with the program.
"The healing process is still taking place. Let me just say that," Holland-Baldwin said.
Baldwin and his family are healing together, with a new perspective.
"It just makes you look at life in a different way," Holland-Baldwin said.
"I don`t think about it anymore. I just let God handle it. I go on about my life," Baldwin said.
The Project Ujima program is now being used as a model for others just like it across the country.
CLICK HERE to learn more about Project Ujima.