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2,000 Kids Hit Streets With Anti-Drugs, Gangs Message

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Their cries of “no more drugs” ricocheted off apartment buildings, stores and houses along their three-mile , winding path, leaving a wake of clapping and honking residents and commuters.

Dressed in bright-red shirts and carrying colorful banners announcing the march’s theme, “Celebrate Family Unity with Pride,” 2,000 local elementary and intermediate students delivered their anti-drug, anti-gang message along Bristol Street and Civic Center Drive early Saturday.

“Most of these kids live in areas where drugs and gangs are visible,” said Jenny Rios, coordinator of the fifth annual Project PRIDE (Parks and Recreation Inspire Dignity and Esteem), Santa Ana’s gang prevention program.

“We want to give them the resolve early in life to combat those things,” Rios said.

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For Ricardo Aguilar, 13, from Sierra Intermediate School in Santa Ana, the march was the culmination of a year of Project Pride activities.

“I see the drugs and the gangs near my school, but this program lets me know that there is something more important to do,” he said.

Rios said the program, which has a year-round “homework lab,” and other activities, targets children at risk, those who may have been exposed to or are likely to be exposed to gangs and drugs. She said Saturday’s events were held to congratulate the students who had participated in the program throughout the year.

Before beginning the procession beginning at Rancho Santiago College, the students, from the Santa Ana and Garden Grove unified school districts, were treated to several skits, including a “speaking puppet” show performed by Santa Ana DARE Officer John Reed, a ventriloquist.

The balloon-toting youngsters were then led by the horns, drums, and cheerleaders of Carr Intermediate School Band from a parking lot at the college to 17th Street and Bristol Street, where they stopped and chanted to surprised onlookers before continuing their march.

“It’s good to see all these ninos and ninas out here marching for something,” said Carlos Espinoza, who waited for the block - long procession to filter down Civic Center Drive so he could drive away.

After the march, the hungry and tired children consumed 4,000 tacos provided by Jack-in-the-Box.

“Gosh, I’m tired,” said Araceli Cruz, 8, between chomps.

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