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Conference Is Latest Effort To Professionalize Street Outreach By Ex-Offenders

The Community Assistance Support Team visits the Casa Sierra condominium comp...

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: The Community Assistance Support Team visits the Casa Sierra condominium complex to check in on residents who witnessed a January 2013 in this undated photo.

Some reformed gang members and offenders have long worked to prevent violence in San Diego through community outreach. Now they’re working to professionalize those efforts with a first-of-its-kind conference in San Diego on Friday.

The Community Mentor Summit will bring together grassroots organizations and individuals who have worked to interrupt cycles of violence and incarceration in San Diego County by mentoring youth and bringing resources to their communities. Most have lived the experiences themselves but have struggled to do the work full time because of their criminal records.

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“They can’t work for an agency because of the background check, but they can be hired on as consultants, subcontractors, youth mentors and parent partners to work alongside social workers, probation workers, therapists,” said Pastor Jesus Sandoval of New Harvest Church in Oak Park.

He helped organize the event and is part of Community Wraparound, which offers alternatives and resources to gang-involved youth and their families. Sandoval said community mentors are in an important piece of the puzzle because they remain present in the community once agencies such as probation have closed out their cases and stopped checking in.

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Community mentors may also be better equipped to connect with gang-affiliated youth who are considering committing a crime. The Community Assistance Support Team, for example, mobilizes when there has been a gang shooting to talk rival gang members out of retaliating.

Other organizations participating in the summit include Project A.W.A.R.E., Youth Voice, Youth Empowerment, Paving Great Futures and Epiphany Women in Focus. Service providers including SAY San Diego, National Conflict Resolution Center and County Health and Human Services are expected to participate.

"We attend different conferences throughout the year and it’s really put on by the system, so we’re more the audience,” Sandoval said. “This community summit, it’s our first one where we’re the presenters and the system is the audience.”

County probation recently contracted with a nonprofit to establish a paid community mentor position in Oceanside, and Alliant University has established a certificate program for community mentors.

The Community Mentor Summit runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bayview Baptist Church in Encanto. It's funded with a Health and Human Services Agency grant.

A first-of-its-kind conference for San Diego will highlight the work of reformed gang members and the formerly incarcerated in preventing violence and other crime in the region.

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