Growing up in North Hills, an area notorious for heavy gang activity, drugs and prostitution, has been easier for Elsa Perez because of her participation in free activities at the Devonshire Police Activity League Supporters Youth Center.
Elsa, 10, has been going to the center for four years after school and during school breaks, and has learned karate, how to fish and use a computer.
"You make friends a lot," Elsa said. "We have drawing classes, we have a drill team. And when they take us on field trips, they give us a prize, candy or a T-shirt. Like when we had a fishing contest to see who could catch the biggest fish, I won a fishing pole for catching the smallest one."
Officer Sara Faden, youth center coordinator from the Devonshire Division community relations office, said the center is a safe environment for Elsa and other area kids between the ages of 5 and 17. More than 60 young people visit the facility daily from noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, she said.
The center is a partnership of business people and private residents who volunteer time with local youth and the Police Department to create an alternative to gangs and crime. Youngsters are taken on field trips, including deep-sea fishing as well as tours to see how the Coast Guard operates or to watch an IMAX film.
"I get to see the kids develop and grow into responsible individuals," Faden said. "Some don't get the proper attention at home, so when they come here, I consider them part of my family."
Elsa said she is grateful for the facility's quiet work spaces as well.
"It helps me do my homework and get good grades at school and learn more about computers," she said.
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Devonshire Police Activity League Supporters Youth Center
* Shoes for drill team: $12 a pair
* Basketball uniforms: $15 each
* Basketballs: $20 each[* Computer software: $9-$20[* Tutors: $20 a session[* Art supplies: $10-$20[* Field trips: $10 per child