Deja View : An Updated Look at Some of the Stories Featured Here During the Year : Gang Shooting: : Volunteers Try to Talk Youths Out of Gang Life

Blinky Rodriguez is back at work, at least part time, managing a Van Nuys gym and promoting sports events. His voice sounds stronger; there are glimmers of the unfailing optimism that once pervaded his daily life.

Ten months ago, Rodriguez’s 16-year-old son was killed in what police say was a gang shooting. The elder Rodriguez--a kick-boxing champion-turned-businessman--was plunged into the dark side of life.

He turned to his religion. And he turned to the Pacoima streets where Sonny was shot. Rodriguez launched the crusade of an anguished father, talking to as many kids as he could, trying to talk them out of gang life.

In the months since, Rodriguez has formed a team of volunteers who call themselves the Gang Intervention Special Tactics Force. Many of his workers are members of the Victory Outreach Church in Sepulveda, which prides itself on converting addicts and gang members.


The volunteers, who have been on the streets and in jail themselves, say they know how to talk to young people who are headed in the same direction.

The group now holds its weekly meetings--which have outgrown Rodriguez’s home--at the United Methodist Church of Sepulveda. Members speak at local high schools and junior high schools. They visit juvenile hall.

And they continue to walk the streets.

“We’re out there competing with drug dealers and with the friends of these kids who want to pull them in another direction,” Rodriguez said.

Last weekend, Rodriguez took a group of 21 youths on a camping trip to Big Bear. A bus company donated transportation and local businessmen paid some of the expenses, though Rodriguez was hoping for more donations.

He recently addressed the Kiwanis Club in hopes of attracting more sponsors.