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North County Group 'Resilience' Is Helping Kids Get Out Of Gangs

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Gang involvement has led to jail time, substance abuse and death. A North County group is helping at-risk youth resist the lure of gangs, and have a chance at a new life.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Gang involvement has led to jail time, substance abuse and even death. We're going to hear from an organization helping at risk North County youth overcome their gang involvement for a chance of a new life KPBS North County reporter. Tanya thorn has this story about the group called resilience. Send that I'm older. I grew up surrounded by gangs drugs and an unstable home.

Speaker 2: 00:24 I didn't have nobody there. So I ended up turning to gangs and everything that I was looking for at home. I found it in the streets. I'm a recovering addict. I started using drugs when I was 13. Um, I had some traumatic experience when I was growing up at the age of eight. And, um, it just skyrocketed from there

Speaker 1: 00:45 At 21 more, I went to prison. She says prison and letting her family down where the turning points to her turbulent life. I just,

Speaker 2: 00:54 You know, it was time, time to change my life around

Speaker 1: 00:56 Mora. Now, 45 years old chose to give back to the community she grew up in. She is studying drug and alcohol counseling at Palomar college and expects to graduate in the next two years. Maura is also a mentor for resilience, a non-profit organization, helping at-risk North County, youth on probation or leaving juvenile detention.

Speaker 2: 01:16 I love it. I'm able to give back to the community, you know, and I can relate to all the kids that I've came across, you know, from them not having the support at home or their parents are doing drugs

Speaker 1: 01:29 19 year old AKI Del Rio is one of Maura's mentees.

Speaker 3: 01:32 Well, my whole family is gang related from different gangs in the NFL and ultra sign. So, uh, I just kind of grew up around that type of stuff. Like my dad, he was a gang member. Uh, he died when I was in first grade. He was kicked out with the police department. Um, I grew up in foster homes and stuff. You know, my mom was a drug addict, you know, uh, bounce from house to house.

Speaker 1: 01:51 When Del Rio was in juvenile hall, resilience reached out to him to connect him with a mentor who had been through similar programs.

Speaker 3: 01:59 I most people I've seen there was having an agenda. You know what I mean, either it's just to get finished with you so they can move on to the next person, you know, it's to make their money, blah, blah,

Speaker 1: 02:07 Blah. But he saw a difference in resilience.

Speaker 3: 02:09 But with these people right here, like it's real genuine and stuff, you know, and everything they do was out of the bottom of their heart and stuff. You know what I mean?

Speaker 1: 02:16 All of the mentors and resilience have a past gang affiliation or have been to prison, helping them bond with their mentees.

Speaker 2: 02:23 I don't want to see this kid go back to Joel. He's so smart. You know, they have so much potential and you see it. And that's part of a bit about being a mentor that you got to remind them, you know, that they're worthy of living a different lifestyle.

Speaker 1: 02:39 Robert Coldwell is a resilience mentor. He says part of his job is showing the students. There is more to life than the four corners of the city they grew up in.

Speaker 3: 02:49 Um, took them to be able to do things that they've never done. Um, fishing trips, kid, who's never been on a boat. Um, those types of experiences, we, we deal everyday.

Speaker 1: 03:00 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. And they provide mentees someone they can trust

Speaker 3: 03:12 For me. My job is to try to, uh, make the ones who are going in and out of jail and are comfortable with that. The uncomfortable when they go back because they experienced a lot more than life has

Speaker 1: 03:25 Mentors say 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,

Speaker 2: 03:34 You stayed on the phone with one of my girls for like almost two hours, you know, just talking, laughing, just try to get her out of that state of mind. You know what I mean, where she wants to take off, take the bracelet off that she has because she's on probation or, you know, she wants to go get high or drink or, you know, something that's going to eventually get her caught up and go back.

Speaker 1: 03:53 Del Rio has graduated from the program with no plans to go back to his old life. He hopes to join the army. At the end of the year,

Speaker 3: 04:01 The program managers did a lot for me. Like, I mean, probation got me into colleges. You know, they're just an opportunity to bless me with, you know, and just it's damaged to the point where I'm at now.

Speaker 1: 04:12 And while he explores his opportunities, he also returns to resilience to mentor other youth that are going through what he did and showing them how resilient they can be.

Speaker 3: 04:22 Joining me is KPBS North County reporter Tanya thorn,

Speaker 1: 04:26 Tanya, welcome. Thanks for having me, Maureen, who came up with

Speaker 3: 04:30 The idea of the resilience program. When did it start?

Speaker 1: 04:35 Well, it started in 2018 and it was a pilot program that kicked off here in Oceanside by the County of San Diego probation department. And they based this program off of the credible messenger program in New York. And although it launched in 2018, you know, it took a little bit of time to recruit mentors because they really wanted mentors that grew up here in North County and just knew the area, knew the problems happening in the community. So that's kind of how it started.

Speaker 3: 05:03 The counseling method sounds a lot like alcoholics anonymous with the mentor system. I'm wondering, is there any overall guiding philosophy or religious affiliation involved?

Speaker 1: 05:14 You know, it, it is really similar. And I think what's really special about this program is that, you know, the mentors bond with the mentees because they have a similar past, um, you know, they grew up in the, in the, in the area, they have maybe a gang affiliation they've had maybe similar drug use. Um, they've experienced traumas like domestic violence at home. Maybe the parents are gone, they're working all the time. So I think, I think that's what really makes this program special is that the, you know, mentors just have gone through a lot of the experiences that the mentees are now going through. You know, although there is no religious affiliation, I think that, you know, if maybe a mentor does, you know, bond with a mentee over that, I mean, it's, you know, ultimately one more thing that they can relate to each other with

Speaker 3: 06:01 Is resilience mentoring. Part of any court ordered program for kids in juvenile hall.

Speaker 1: 06:07 You know, it's not court ordered the San Diego probation department does refer youth to the program, but it's really voluntary. I mean, although they're referred, you know, the youth has the, you know, makes the choice to go or not.

Speaker 3: 06:21 And is the group exclusively focused on North County?

Speaker 1: 06:25 You know, this program resilience is it's, um, in Oceanside and Vista. So it's it's youth that are on probation in Oceanside and Vista. And then obviously some of them have moved throughout North County. So then as long as they were residents in Oceanside Invista, they can participate in the program. But now because the program has been so successful, the County of San Diego is expanding into central San Diego. So Southeast San Diego lemon Grove city Heights area,

Speaker 3: 06:52 One of the young men you spoke with said, he quote unquote, graduated from the resilience program. What does it take to graduate?

Speaker 1: 07:01 You know, it can mean so many different things, but because of the program requirements, you need to attend group sessions. So there's a certain limit limit that you need to attend of the group sessions. So you also need to meet with your mentor one-on-one, but now it can go beyond that. So AKI, he actually got off probation, he graduated from high school, took a couple college courses. And so now he's looking to join the army at the end of this year. Hopefully. So now the army is willing to take him as long as he removes his tattoos. And again, because of all the work that he has accomplished and all the accolades that he has because of resilience

Speaker 3: 07:40 And where does resilience get its funding?

Speaker 1: 07:43 The main funding comes from San Diego probation department. And so, um, Vista community clinic is who gets the funding and they facilitate the program. And so, you know, their funding is very minimal. The program manager told me that, you know, the funding that they get does provide some field trips, but it's more things like fishing, hiking, kayaking before the pandemic, they were able to do more things like go to LA, go on a couple of road trips, go to K one, you know, the speedways, but, you know, because of the pandemic and that limited funding, I mean, you know, the field trips aren't as extensive as I'd like them to be.

Speaker 3: 08:20 And how much of an effect has the pandemic had on the resilience program

Speaker 1: 08:25 From speaking to the program manager, Jimmy, you know, he set the pandemic has been a big challenge on the program because you know, it doesn't really end the problems that these youth are facing. I mean, he told me about shooting still happening the week that we went into quarantine and broad daylight at parks, you know, some of these parents are very limited with money, so they still have to go to work to be able to provide food. The drug use still continue domestic violence. A lot of these kids are, you know, facing anxiety. And so at the, they, they did go virtual for, you know, maybe one to two months. But after that, they realized they needed to continue the group sessions because they were ultimately an outlet for these youth. This is the group sessions are providing a way for them to get out of that toxic environment.

Speaker 1: 09:10 And so they started distributing foods in the neighborhood and just started to do more outdoors things like fishing and hiking once, you know, once the rules eased up a little bit and can any at-risk kid reach out to the resilience program? Not anybody, you know, it's, it's a tough age. So I don't know if any kid, you know, wants to go, but, um, so that youth does need to be on probation in order to join. But, you know, again, the referrals happen organically. Once the group of kids that's already there sees how fun it is and just how they can put their differences aside and just, you know, what the program, the opportunity the program gives them. I think they start talking to their friends and amongst themselves, you know, amongst the kids that are on probation and just invite them over and, you know, hopefully it gives them a new chance at life. I've been speaking with KPBS, North County reporter, Tonya thorn, Tanya. Thank you. Thank you, Maureen.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.