Gang Prevention Lite
Hard Times Hit Groups for At-Risk Youth
The same week two high-profile Santa Barbara gang killings were scheduled to go to trial-one a sentencing, the other a preliminary hearing-a coalition of six chronically under-funded community groups that have been making it their business to deal with “hard core” gang members and at-risk youth announced they were forming a formal partnership to achieve a degree of financial stability that has so far eluded them.
The new group, Making a Difference Intervention Collaborative (MADIC), hosted its coming-out party early Monday morning at the Franklin Center during a gathering of elected officials, nonprofit administrators, law enforcement executive, and social service agency honchos all focused on reducing youth and gang violence. After a polished video production engineered by Youth Cinemedia, one of the six participating organizations, Zona Seca’s Frank Banales explained the rationale for the new partnership. “There are a lot of youth and a lot of services, but we focus on the hard core, which very few focus on,” he said. Banales noted that many nonprofits work effectively with young people, and that many have long histories and personal connections that helps with fundraising. But they, he said, don’t work with the core population inflicting psychic heartburn and heartache on the South Coast through increased gang violence.
The six organizations that do, he noted, are often drastically underfunded. Their success often derives from the strong personal relationships and trust that their counselors developed over the years with young people attracted to gang life. Those counselors, many of whom have first-hand experience with gang life themselves, may not be that administratively savvy, however. But this past summer, their aid was emphatically enlisted when officials from City Hall, the school district, and a host of social service agencies scrambled to respond to escalating gang violence over the past two years by targeting 82 at-risk students. Ben Romo of County Education, who has played a key role in that effort, strongly endorsed the work of these six, saying, “All of us in government should understand that we’ve been getting a free ride from these groups.”
Notwithstanding such enthusiastic endorsements, these organizations-which include Primo Boxing, All for One, Y Strive, Los Compadres (and Comadres), Surf to Turf, and Youth Cinemedia-have suffered from financial instability through most of their existence. To just make ends meet, all six combined need $500,000 this year. Thus far they have raised only $195,000. Many of these groups-such as Primo Boxing, which operates out of an abandoned city fire station on Haley Street-lack the time or organizational resources for fundraising, grant writing, or publicity. Joe and Jean Pommier have transformed the gym into a place to teach young people the rudiments of discipline, hard work, and self-defense. Banales said Primo deals with hundreds of teens a year, making do only on $40,000 a year plus volunteer help. And that doesn’t cover the $60 in gas money the Pommiers personally spent driving a vanload of young boxers to Santa Maria and back last weekend. All six organizations had similar stories to tell and similar needs to plead. Osiris Castaneda of Youth Cinemedia said he needs to reach out to Eastside teens and consequently needs more space. Matt Sanchez of All for One takes members of feuding factions on outdoor trips where they learn to overcome their differences. But such trips cost more money than he makes working as a barber.
At the same meeting at which MADIC’s meeting was announced, Santa Barbara Administrator Jim Armstrong announced that economic realities have taken their toll on plans to create a South Coast Gang Task Force, a permanent quasi-governmental supergroup with a permanent funding stream run by an appointed gang czar. “There’s been an economic meltdown going on, in case you hadn’t heard,” Armstrong said. For the time being, Armstrong has decided not to hire a brand-new executive director. Instead, he will appoint Don Olson, a former city planner now working part-time under Armstrong to serve as the de facto gang czar.
Armstrong will also appoint City Parks & Recreation chief Nancy Rapp to run the prevention and intervention aspect of the program. Parks & Recreation, however, is slated for budget cuts of $1.2 million-$1.7 million, prompting some in attendance to wonder whether Rapp will still have sufficient funding herself. Terming the new entity “The South Coast Gang Taskforce Lite,” Armstrong added, “It’s not as grandiose as we thought, but it’s something we can do with existing resources.” He said the executive committee and leadership council should meet for the first time in the next few weeks.