Monday, April 21, 2008

Youth leaders hear about mentor program


Just back from a trip to Mammoth Lakes with a group of local at-risk kids, youth mentor Matt Sanchez gave a rundown of his annual “Hoods in the Woods” excursion to community leaders yesterday at their biweekly meeting on youth violence.
Leaders also heard an update on short-term strategies to aid local teens and efforts to compile a youth resources and services directory.

Sanchez emphasized the importance of taking local youth out of their element as a way of bringing them together. The trip, organized through his All For One program, kept the 44 participants — who came from different neighborhoods throughout Carpinteria, Goleta and Santa Barbara — busy with snowboarding, poster drawing and, most importantly, guest speakers who decried gang involvement.
“They’re going to remember this for a long time,” Sanchez said.
Several of the speakers shown in video footage from the retreat talked about their past involvement with gangs and how they broke away. One speaker, who said he had been in a gang in junior high, described how he got involved in the All For One program, graduated from high school and Santa Barbara City College, and just got accepted to a four-year university.
Teens listening to his speech burst into applause as he announced his plans to return to Santa Barbara to be a college professor. Having firsthand knowledge of gang life is critical to reaching youth, Sanchez said.
“A lot of people want to teach on gangs who have never been in a gang,” he said. “…They don’t know how to survive on the streets.”
Although he admitted some participants bought into his brand of mentoring less than others, Sanchez said the trip occurred without any tension, mostly because the 12 volunteer mentors kept the kids too busy. Several participants also said they plan to come back as junior mentors.
“Sal has already secured his spot,” Sanchez said, introducing one of the participants, a student at Rincon High School.
After initially planning on skipping the event, Sal said his family kept bugging him to go and he finally decided the day before the trip.
“I’m glad I went,” the teen said. “…He really opened up my mind to see what I really want to do.”
With summer school and a job already lined up, he said his plan is to stay on track and stay out of trouble, garnering a round of applause from those in the room.
As members of the group described their reaction to the presentation, Police Chief Cam Sanchez said mentoring programs such as All For One are a critical part of the solution.
“We’re just touching the tip of this iceberg,” he said. “We need to touch Matt and others with a connection [to youth], because those are tools in our toolbox that, as a bureaucracy, we don’t go to enough.”
Martin Conoley, the county’s deputy chief probation officer for juvenile services, said the program is accessible, affordable, builds relationships, offers challenges, and is fun — all the components to create a shift from violence to productivity. However, he stressed the need to have a similar program for girls.
Bill Batty, executive director of Family Service Agency, then handed out a draft inventory of approximately 25 local programs and organizations geared specifically toward combating youth violence. He also passed around a thicker directory with more generalized programs for youth and families.
The next step, he said, is honing down the drafts and putting them together in different forms — a Spanish language version, a pocket guide, and an online version.
In terms of the short-term strategy, leaders said 45 at-risk youth have been identified for a pilot program this summer that will introduce them to youth services and programs, in addition to offering assistance with their educational standing.
Cam Sanchez said the subcommittee working on the short-term strategy is working on planning grants and has already started lining up potential city jobs for youth this summer.
“I think we’ve got the makings of some great collaboratives and I think we’re going to be OK,” he said.
He also introduced Alejandra Gutierrez, a youth mentorship advisor at Santa Barbara High School who will fill the role of facilitator this summer, hooking kids and families up with support services and working out academic issues.
“We’ll get those families in line before school gets out,” he said. “We are on it.”

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