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September 23, 2009 > At risk youth given choices

At risk youth given choices

By Corinne Davis
Photos By Dale Stone

Too many California youths languish on the streets, broke and jobless, until gangs claim them usually leading to the criminal justice system and finally, prison. Years later, after incarceration and back on the streets, most lack job skills and education. The result... 80 percent return to prison. Such is the tragic cycle not only for men and women with wasted lives saddled with a criminal history, but for the State. By year 2012, California expects to spend more on prisons than on universities.

Union City noticed that the City of Fresno decided it wasn't going to tolerate this cycle. Fresno persuaded 300 businesses to give 600 at-risk youths training and a job. The program success rate was 85 percent. If Fresno could do it, Union City decided it could, too.

Union City Mayor Mark Green and Deputy City Manager Tony Acosta consulted Councilman Richard Valle who started hiring at-risk youth twenty years ago at his Tri-CED Recycling business. "He already knew how to do it," Acosta said.

Ruben Ramirez, age 17, and Robert Rodriguez, 24, agreed. They told their stories of forsaking street life and finding success at Tri-CED at an employer-partnership presentation and lunch at the Masonic Homes of California on September 15. Rodriguez told City Council Members, new staff members of the Youth Violence Reduction, Intervention & Prevention Program and local business owners he is alone because every family member and friend is gone, either in prison or dead. He, however, has a job that gives him a future, respect and a paycheck.

Union City's new program is a proactive stance to reduce gang and violence through deterrence, social services and employment development targeting youth ages 14 to 24.

Artria Lewis, Lead Outreach Worker for the new program, partly funded by Measure UU, is one of five staff members experienced in dealing with at-risk youth.

"Just give them a chance and they'll make it. We need to engage them in their teens because once they're in their 20s, they've established a life pattern that's hard to change," Lewis said.

The new program is also funded by Alameda County Probation, the Union City Redevelopment Agency and a CalGrip Grant.

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