Goal: To enhance community safety
Santa Cruz’s Teen Center enjoyed a day in the media spotlight on May 14th, when American Idol finalist James Durbin, the Center’s most famous graduate, came back for a triumphant homecoming visit. Durbin posed with star struck fans, signed autographs, and praised the program that helped him pursue his dream of becoming a performer.
The acclaim was especially welcome in the wake of financial challenges for this valuable city program. Since December 2001, the Teen Center has offered a safe, supervised, after-school haven for hundreds of local youth, offering everything from snacks and games to homework help and work experience opportunities.But in January 2010, citywide budget cuts forced the Teen Center to relocate from a leased building to the City’s Louden Nelson Community Center, and the program’s funding was nearly eliminated.
The Teen Center has remained open five days per week, thanks to generous grants from the Packard Foundation and the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz, citizen donations and support from the Santa Cruz Police Department. But on-going community support is needed to assure the Center’s future.
Tax-deductible donations to the Teen Center can be made to the Friends of Parks and
Recreation at friendsofparksandrec.org, or by calling (831) 420-5277.
Teens Take Pride in Santa Cruz
In recent years, the Santa Cruz Police Department has confronted gang violence with new officers, more patrols and a beefed-up gang task force. But SCPD is also investing in prevention with the PRIDE program, a ten-week course aimed at opening teens’ eyes to the gritty realities of street life.
PRIDE, which stands for Personally Responsible Individual Development in Ethics, is aimed at middle-schoolers, boys and girls, who are failing their classes, defying their parents, and drifting into the orbit of neighborhood gangs.
“People in the schools, the teachers and administrators, they all know who these kids are,” said program manager Sgt. Michael Harms. “We work with the middle schools, Mission Hill and Branciforte, to ID the people teetering on the edge. They’re not full-blown gang members, and we’re trying to stop it before it begins.”
Candidates are selected by school officials, and invitations are issued to families. The program is voluntary, and open to ten participants per class. Each student is paired with an adult mentor who attends classes with their student and offers experience, advice and an open ear.
Like the “scared straight” programs of an earlier era, PRIDE begins with visits to the jail, the courthouse, the homeless shelter, a funeral home. Students experience the helplessness of being handcuffed, booked and brought before a judge – a troubling glimpse of one possible future path.
But PRIDE goes beyond the fear factor by devoting half its curriculum to the opportunities Santa Cruz has to offer, and teaching teens how to reach for higher goals. “We take them on a ropes course in
Corralitos, and flying in private planes at the Watsonville airport,” said mentor volunteer Patti Whitlock. “They got to do experiments in a chemistry lab at UCSC – that was the best.”
“Kids are really smart, and they figure out … if you make the right decisions, this is what you get,” Whitlock said. “And if you make the wrong decisions, that is what you get. It’s a doseof reality.”
Officer Joe Hernandez, co-founder of PRIDE, says he has seen positive change in every teen that has gone through the program, with some graduates completely turning their lives around.
Students’ parents are offered advice on positive discipline, child development and signs of possible gang or drug involvement. PRIDE recently graduated its second class, and a third is scheduled to begin in September.For information on volunteering or contributing to the PRIDE program, please contact Sgt. Harms or Officer Hernandez at (831) 420-5870.