Saturday, August 24

Program helps steer youths away from gangs


Program helps steer youths away from gangs

Volunteers work to guide problematic children toward safe
after-school activities

By Walter E. Pineda

Someday during the month of December 1995, I was walking into an
apartment building and noticed a group of four kids hanging outside
the front entrance. Unusually, these kids were squatting shoulder
to shoulder on the stairs. They were absolutely silent and just
stared at me as I walked up next to them.

Interestingly, a curly-haired fellow with bulging eyes tapped my
leg for attention. He asked who I was, and I told him my name and
business there and asked what he was doing. He, in agreement with
his other three pals, responded "nothing."

According to UC studies, "(About) 235,480 of the 841,000
children under the age of 17 in the city of Los Angeles live in
poverty." Many of these children, left unsupervised and with
nothing to do, are at much greater risk of becoming involved with
gangs, drugs, alcohol and sex; of neglecting schoolwork and of
engaging in unsafe actions, vandalism and other high-risk behavior
that can have long-term personal, societal and economic
consequences.

Psychologists, teachers, social workers, child development
experts and some parents would not find it hard to relate to or
confirm the above. Given these risks, it is no wonder that "83
percent of inner-city residents" have identified the "need for
youth services as the No. 1 priority in their communities."

The 4-H Youth Development Program, administered in California by
the University of California, has developed high-quality
after-school programs since 1983.

These programs provide an alternative to the above scenario by
offering a safe, secure and rewarding environment where trained,
caring adults guide youth in a process that develops life skills;
encourages cooperation and communication; promotes critical
thinking, sound health, safety and nutritional practices; enhances
self-esteem and emphasizes community involvement and personal
responsibility.

This process invites youth to participate in hands-on,
learn-by-doing activities that constitute real-world
situations.

Currently, our 4-H After School Activity Program serves children
ages 7 to 13 who live in public housing communities mainly in three
different areas of Los Angeles: East Los Angeles, South Central and
South Bay-Long Beach.

We are seeking volunteers to serve as homework counselors,
activity volunteers, site volunteers and philanthropic leaders. Our
program also provides internships to college students who are
pursuing teaching and field experience in their major field. In
addition, our program seeks to establish collaborative
relationships with on-campus groups and organizations that serve
youth and the community.

Youths need sustained contact with positive role models. In the
absence of this contact, youths seek other alternatives which very
often include withdrawing from the traditional family structure to
join local gangs for support. While resources are essential to
solve these problems, they are not enough.

Children are humans who need to feel and see that others care
for their lives through positive interaction. In the face of
today’s youth problems, made worse by the shutdown and cutting of
many support services and social service programs in Los Angeles,
the need for volunteerism could not be greater.

Perhaps those four kids are beyond your reach, but others might
be waiting for someone like you.

If you are interested in volunteering and/or want more detailed
information about our program and projects, please contact our
office at (213) 744-4878 or (213) 744-5139.

Pineda is currently a volunteer for the University of California
4-H After School Activity Program.Comments to
[email protected]

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