North County Group 'Resilience' Is Helping Kids Get Out Of Gangs
At age 21, Sandra Mora was headed to prison. Mora grew up surrounded by gangs, drugs, and an unstable home.
“I didn't have nobody there so I ended up turning to gangs. Everything I was looking for at home, I found it in the streets,” she said. “I started using drugs when I was 13. I had a traumatic experience when I was growing up at the age of 8. And it just skyrocketed from there.”
She said after serving time and letting down her family, she reached a turning point to her turbulent life.
“It was time. Time to change my life around,” said Mora.
Mora, now 45 years old, chose to give back to the community she grew up in. Sandra Mora is a mentor for Resilience, a nonprofit group that's helping at-risk North County kids on probation or leaving juvenile detention.
“I love it. I’m able to give back to the community. I can relate to all the kids I've come across. From them not having the support at home, or their parents are doing drugs.”
She is also studying drug and alcohol counseling at Palomar College and expects to graduate in the next two years.
Aki Del Rio is 19 years old and is one of Mora’s mentees.
“My whole family is gang related from different gangs in Oceanside. I grew up around that type of stuff. My dad was a gang member. He died when I was in first grade, killed by the Oceanside Police Department. I grew up in foster homes, my mom was a drug addict. I bounced from house to house,” Del Rio said.
When Del Rio was in juvenile hall, Resilience reached out to him to connect him with a mentor. But he had been through similar programs before.
“Most people I've seen always have an agenda. It's to just get finished with you to move on to the next person and just make their money.”
But Del Rio saw a difference in Resilience.
"With these people right here, it's real genuine. Everything they do is out of the bottom of their hearts,” Del Rio said.
All of the mentors in Resilience have a past gang affiliation or have been to prison. Mora said their past helps them bond with their mentees.
“I don't want to see this kid go back to jail. He's so smart. They have so much potential, and you see it. And that's part about being a mentor, that you gotta remind them that they're worthy of living a different lifestyle,” said Mora.
Robert Coble is also a Resilience mentor. He said part of his job is showing his students there is more to life than the four corners of the city they grew up in.
“We took them to be able to do things that they’ve never done. Fishing trip, kid who’s never been on a boat. Those types of experiences we deal with every day,” said Coble.
Resilience guides their youth in a variety of ways, from field trips and exercising together, to regular meetings, helping with college enrollment, and attending court hearings.
"My job is to try to make the ones who are going in and out of jail and are comfortable with it, be uncomfortable when they go back because they've experienced a lot more to life," said Coble.
Mentors said their job never ends, and it can go as far as taking phone calls in the middle of the night to save a mentee from making a bad choice.
"I've stayed on the phone with one of my girls for almost two hours, just talking, laughing. Trying to get her out of that state of mind where she wants to take off, take off the bracelet because she's on probation, wants to go get high, go drink. Something that’s going to eventually get her caught up and go back," Mora said.
Resilience is funded through the County of San Diego Probation Department. The program is implemented and facilitated by Vista Community Clinic.
Jimmy Figueroa, the program manager, said that since the implementation of the program, recidivism has been reduced by 85% among the youth who enter Resilience.
"I would say we are a model program. Only 15% of our mentees who got off probation reoffended and got put back on probation," said Figueroa.
Figueroa said mentors attend all court hearings with the mentees, routinely visit youth in custody, and during the pandemic, routinely schedule skype calls with the youth in custody.
Figueroa said he wishes they could take their youth on more field trips, but their funding is minimal. The program is always taking donations and is hoping to get funding for their own building later this year.
Del Rio has graduated from the program and hopes to join the Army at the end of the year. Although he was on juvenile probation, recruiters with the Army are willing to take him if he removes his tattoos and because of the work he completed with Resilience.
"The program has done a lot for me. Got me off probation, got me to colleges, so many opportunities they've blessed me with that has got me to the point where I'm at now,” Del Rio said.
While he explores his opportunities, Del Rio returns to Resilience to mentor other youth that are going through what he did, and he tries to show them how resilient they can be.