Los Angeles City Council Funds Gang Prevention Programs To Help Transform Lives
Andy Rodriguez remembers hanging out with gang members, doing drugs, and failing his classes at school as a 15-year-old.
Struggling with the challenges of living in a single-family, low-income home in the Westlake neighborhood, Rodriguez felt that he lacked a sense of direction in his life.
“My life was very negative at the time. I looked elsewhere to find happiness," Rodriguez said. "I started smoking and drinking. I was running the streets on a daily basis. I was shot at, feared for my life and wouldn’t go to school."
After getting caught for stealing a TV at the age of 15, Rodriguez was referred by police to Los Angeles’ Bresee Foundation as a first-time offender.
The Bresee Foundation is a 30-year-old nonprofit community center that works with at-risk youth, ages 11 to 18, from the Mid-Wilshire, Koreatown, Pico Union and Westlake neighborhoods. The center provides a range of gang-prevention strategies including counseling, anger management classes, tutoring, college prep classes and scholarship and internship opportunities to more than 1,000 people per year.
At Bresee, now 26-year-old Rodriguez received counseling and took anger management classes for six months. Though he was hesitant to change his lifestyle at first, Rodriguez said Bresee’s dedicated staff helped him to gradually change his perspective and transform his life goals.
“Every time I went to Bresee there was such positive energy," Rodriguez said. "My counselor, Senior Case Manager Rene Martinez, would take time to talk to me even after his work hours.”
Rodriguez said he felt encouraged by Bresee’s staff to reach a position of success beyond the six-month-long program as well.
“Even after I graduated from Bresee, Rene would check up on me to see how I was doing,” he said.
After the program, Rodriguez decided that he wanted to go to college. While attending Los Angeles City College, he was offered a job as a mentor and community service organizer to Bresee students. After working at the foundation for four years, Rodriguez transferred to UCLA where he graduated with a degree in sociology on a Bresee scholarship. Today, Rodriguez helps run City of Lights, an organization dedicated to advocating for Latino bicyclist rights in Los Angeles.
“Bresee is about providing a safe place to kids where they can learn and grow with their counselors in terms of what steps they’d like to take in the future,” he said. “If it wasn’t for my experience at Bresee, I probably would have never been at the place I’m at today.”
The Bresee Foundation is one of several organizations in the Los Angeles area to receive city funding for gang intervention services.
On Oct. 12, the Los Angeles City Council approved funding requests for these organizations, allocating $337,500 to Bresee for the period of Oct. 1 through June 2013.
Los Angeles has the largest concentration of gangs in the United States. According to a report from the Urban Institute, at-risk youth who participate in gang prevention programs make significant gains. Studies show that since 2008, city gang reduction programs have contributed to a 57% drop in gang-related homicides within Los Angeles’ Gang Reduction and Youth Development zones.
Due to recent successes, the United States Agency for International Development will provide a $1.5 million grant for the city to continue to develop and fund its gang intervention and prevention programs, like those at the Bresee Foundation.
With new funding from government contracts, Executive Director Seth Ecklund of Bresee hopes that the foundation’s counselors can transform the lives of more at-risk youth like Andy Rodriguez.
“We’re looking to incorporate some of our existing services and to increase staffing to employ a family-centered approach to gang prevention,” Ecklund said. “The main premise in this field of youth development is that you can’t just work with kids in isolation anymore. You have to work with the moms and dads and grandparents too.”
In the past year alone, the center awarded over $100,000 in scholarships to 40 Bresee alumni, enrolled over 50 kids in paid internships at local businesses, and placed 100 students in soccer and basketball leagues. They have also worked to provide emergency financial support to low-income families of Bresee students.
In addition, the foundation encourages Bresee alumni to work with incoming at-risk students on the center’s staff. Over a third of Bresee’s current staff members were former students at the center.
Ecklund said he hopes that Bresee can work to transform the Rampart area through the center’s programs and can encourage alumni to participate in the process as well.
“We envision a central Los Angeles community transformed by character-driven, creative, college-educated Bresee alumni," he said. "We see kids coming through the program and then wanting to come back in this neighborhood and serve it.”
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