Norwalk anti-gang program can be better, City Council agrees

NORWALK - City Council members on Tuesday heard an update on the city's youth intervention program and later said they want to see the programs expanded.The multi-faceted intervention plan, called "I Am Somebody," was launched in the late 1980s in response to increasing gang violence. More than 1,500 kids have gone through the program, which, depending on each child's individual needs, could include drug and alcohol prevention training, anger management or counseling, said public safety director Carlos Ramos. "I Am Somebody" is comprised of three parts: the Youth and Family Intervention program for kids ages 13-17; the Choices program for kids in grades 7-8; and Wings, which focuses on teens already actively involved with gangs and tagging crews. The Youth and Family Intervention program is the most popular course. Kids are referred by the juvenile court system, L.A. County Sheriff's Department, social services and local schools. Each family undergoes a three-stage process that includes an assessment, intervention and action plan formulated specifically for each individual case, Ramos wrote in a staff report. The teen may receive treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, and undergo anger management sessions. Parents are also involved in the process. Progress is monitored through monthly office visits and unannounced drop-ins at school or home. The Choices program launched in 2008 as a way to reach junior high kids susceptible to gangs and tagging crews. Led by community worker Ken Menchaca, the program alerts students to the dangers of gangs while suggesting alternative options. The program operates at Lakeside, Los Alisos and Waite middle schools. Sixty-five students are enrolled in the Lakeside and Los Alisos programs while Waite has about 160 students enrolled. Wings, established in 2007, is also administered by Menchaca. The 8-week course deals with teens already active in gangs and addresses gang life, peer pressure, conflict resolution, law, goal setting, and drug and alcohol abuse. Last year, 42 teens were referred to the program and each earned certificates of completion. City officials estimate more than 170 students have completed the Wings program. Council members Tuesday, particularly Councilman Leonard Shryock, praised the "I Am Somebody" program but said it could potentially reach more kids. "How can we make it better?," Shyryock said, directing his comments to Ramos, the public safety director. "It seems like it's been kind of hanging out, doing it's thing. I want the program to be better." Mayor Cheri Kelley agreed. "Tell us how to expand the program," Kelley said before requesting an analysis of the program's budget by the time Norwalk starts preparing its budget for next year.

********** Published: April 5, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 51