Fighting Good Fight Against Gangs


No one was too surprised by the brief fight. Nearly 50 youths from gang-ridden areas of the Southeast were on a four-day camping trip on Catalina Island last summer when the two teen-agers went at it.

Only one or two punches were thrown and no one was hurt.

"We pulled all the kids back together," said Susan Sharer, a recreation supervisor with the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department. "We sat around the campfire. A lot of emotions came out. (When the session ended) everyone was hugging and kissing."

The camping trip was one of the programs produced by a coalition of area social workers, educators, law enforcement officials, parents and other concerned residents to curb gang activity in Southeast Los Angeles County and Long Beach.

Called the Southeast Partnership on Youth Violence, the coalition was formed last March and decided to test four anti-gang pilot programs. About 50 members of the Southeast Partnership met last Wednesday at the Lakewood Civic Center to discuss their progress.

The coalition watches for a family history of gang membership, truancy and school problems to find future gang members.

The trip to Catalina was part of a seven-week pilot program offered by the coalition for youths in La Mirada, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs and Whittier. About 40 youths--ages 12 to 17 and identified as potential gang members--participated in the program, Sharer said.

Coalition members met with youths in four separate groups for three weeks to focus on problem solving, leadership and cooperation skills. In the fourth week, 28 youths from La Mirada and Pico Rivera rappelled down a 90-foot rock face at Malibu Creek State Park.

"The groups became task-oriented and were able to rely on each other in what was perceived as a life-threatening situation," Sharer reported. "Territorial barriers finally began to dissipate."

There was a beach trip the next week, followed by a trip to Dodger Stadium. The trip to Catalina for youths from all the cities came in the final week.

County Supervisor Pete Schabarum provided $5,000 in county funds for the pilot program, Sharer said.

A pilot program also was staged last summer for youths from Long Beach and Signal Hill.

The group organized a one-week anti-gang program that became part of the eight Long Beach day-care camps. About 600 youths participated, said member Karla Taylor, a drug/gang education coordinator for the Long Beach Unified School District.

The special weapons team from the Long Beach Police Department demonstrated their skills as did city firefighters. About 45 youths took a cruise around Catalina on a guided missile cruiser, courtesy of the U.S. Navy, said coalition member and Long Beach Police Lt. Carroll G. Shelly.

Throughout the demonstrations, officials stressed that the youths had to stay out of gangs and do well in school to get good jobs.

"This unique Public Safety Day Camp . . . provided positive role models for youth as well as recreation and small group counseling," Taylor reported.

Members of the coalition are now training youths to serve as peer counselors in after-school programs in Cerritos, said member Felicia Nepomuceno. The pilot program, which also will include tutoring, will target Filipino youths and start in February, she said.

The coalition also plans to hold a youth conference at the Rockwell International plant in Downey on Nov. 16, said member Tony Ostos, who also Paramount's human services manager.

Ostos said coalition members would work with youths who attend the conference to find programs to combat gang activity.

"The youths should be involved in this whole process and they should be a central part of the solutions," Ostos said.

Coalition members agreed to start a campaign to raise $50,000 in the next year. The coalition has been using a $25,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente to pay for administrative and other costs.

"If we begin to expand and do other kind of things--yearlong programs--it's going to have to be subsidized," Keith Garrison, coalition program director, said.

Coalition members vowed to enlist more people from the business community, which could provide funding for the anti-gang effort, as well as training programs and jobs.

Garrison said some of the young people who participated in last summer's programs are being tracked to find out if they join gangs. The coalition eventually will evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot programs and a uniform plan will be developed, he said.

Assemblyman Bob Epple (D-Norwalk) spoke on the area's gang problems at Wednesday's meeting. He said the numerous anti-gang programs in area cities and school districts need to be coordinated.

"We have a lot of small armies out battling," Epple said. "We don't have a uniform force."

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