Monday, March 17, 2008

Peace agreement reaches Goleta


Dozens of families and community members turned out at the Goleta Community Center for a lazy Sunday afternoon, the last of a trio of peaceful neighborhood gatherings agreed to by local gang leaders.
As kids jumped around in a SpongeBob SquarePants bounce house, parents relaxed at a nearby group of picnic tables, enjoying free tacos. A group of young men sporting white Tri-County Youth Program shirts gathered around the DJ stand as an organizer read off winning raffle ticket numbers.

That group gathered later to pose for photographs with a group of older men in front of a row of motorcycles before heading over to the dunk tank. Efran Reynozo, founder of the Tri-County Youth Program, shed his T-shirt and climbed onto the platform as teens handed over a buck or two in exchange for a toss at the target.
On the second throw, the baseball hit home, sending Reynozo into the tub of chilly water, drawing cheers and laughs from the group of teens, families sitting nearby, and Goleta Councilman Roger Aceves.
“What’s great about this is that it’s not about gangs,” Aceves said. “It’s about families and the community.”
Put together by the Collaborative Communities Foundation, a collective group of youth mentors and activists from various non-profit organizations, the temporary peace agreement allows community members to enjoy a day in the sun without the fear of violence.
Although a car restoration project in April will be the next major venture for the Collaborative Communities Foundation, Babatunde Folayemi, an associate with the group, said organizers are already working on identifying neighborhood locations where youth can meet up with them to hang out or chat.
“Let them just sort of mellow out,” he said, “and start slowly changing that mindset.”
Folayemi said he is also considering sponsorship of a ballot initiative for a half-cent bed tax or similar proposal designed to raise revenues for youth-targeted programs, and hopes to garner support for such an undertaking from a group of community leaders working on a strategic plan to address youth violence.
He said a recent meeting of that group, convened by the City of Santa Barbara, encouraged him.
“I’m glad the city is starting to realize that this is something that needs to be institutionalized,” he said.
After following the progress of the neighborhood gatherings, held on the previous two Sundays at Ortega Park and Bohnett Park in Santa Barbara, Aceves said organizers need to keep the momentum going forward.
“We need to have a greater community dialogue to continue this effort,” he said.
One area he hopes to see improvement is in the creation of community gathering points, such as parks, mentioning an upcoming discussion at tomorrow’s Goleta City Council meeting of a neighborhood park on Armitos Avenue in Old Town Goleta that is still in the planning phase.
“This is not the gang issue,” Aceves said. “This is a youth issue. If we don’t have enough places for our kids to play, enough parks, then we’re going to have obesity and health issues too.”

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