Longtime program to help at-risk youth gets fresh start

With the future of a program that pairs at-risk youth with police mentors uncertain earlier this summer due to budget cuts, city officials and community leaders have settled on a new, cheaper alternative so that it can continue.

For about 15 years, Glendale Police have run the Police Activities League, where 14- to 18-year-old students participated in boxing or equestrian activities with officers. But lack of funding put it on the chopping block a few months ago.

“It was tenuous for a while,” said Sgt. John Gilkerson, head of the community policing unit.

Then city and police officials reached out to the Glendale YMCA to see if the nonprofit could take over the program and run it at a lower cost.

The Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee last week agreed to let the police give $13,788 set aside to run the Police Activities League to the YMCA this fiscal year.

In the past, police have received $31,000 in federal money for the league. If the City Council approves the swap, the league can restart after being on hold throughout the summer.

“This program works. It’s a wonderful program,” said advisory committee member Alexander Oganesyan, who participated in the league as a youth. “Some of my best childhood memories are because of the boxing program.”

In the past, the Police Department would pay officers overtime for administrative and mentoring work. Those extra costs would be cut out as the YMCA would be in charge of coordinating the operation and officers would be assigned to mentor during regular shifts, according to a city report.

“There’s a new culture of partnership to address issues our community is facing right now because of economic issues,” said Glendale YMCA Chief Executive George Saikali. “It’s a new era.”

Under the smaller, leaner program, the league’s boxing component will continue, but equestrian activities will not. Dance and chess will also be options, Saikali said.

The YMCA plans to recruit 60 to 100 students for the league. A school faculty member, police officer or community center employee can refer low-income students with at least a 2.3-grade point average, Saikali said. The program is free for participants.

“The No. 1 thing is to reach out to kids, especially those at risk. We want to keep them out of trouble,” Gilkerson said.

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