The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department gang prevention program and 20 of their at-risk youths were invited to a conference and tour of the UC Irvine campus on Wednesday, Feb. 27. The event, held in the conference room of the social ecology building, featured guest speakers from Homeboy Industries, who were invited to speak alongside student speakers.
Homeboy Industries is a non-profit organization aimed at intervention and helping youths and adult gang members get away from a life of crime. The program offers free GED classes, tattoo-removal parlors, along with employment and community service opportunities for its members.
Professors Elliott P. Currie and John D. Dombrink also spoke at the event, along with a representative of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department. The entire event was the culminating result of the work of student volunteers working under the Carson Sheriff Station as part of their field studies class.
“It doesn’t matter where you came from,” Professor Dombrink said to the gathered youths. “If you will work hard, if you are interested in what you do, there will be a spot for you.”
According to Professor Currie, the success of the program emphasizes the importance of student and community participation and the need for awareness of these many projects between students and the working legal world.
“It really is to give kids who might not have had exposure to our kind of institution a real chance to hear what some of us who work here think about it, and what students here think about it,” Professor Currie said. “It’s a great example of what can happen as a result of our field studies program in social ecology and of the potential and commitment that we do have for reaching out into the community.”
The event also featured student speakers from veterans’ fraternity Alpha Psi Omega, and ethnic and community service fraternities, Sigma Delta Alpha and Sigma Delta Sigma.
“There’s a lot more work to be done because this problem is so big,” David Yang, a double major in psychology and social behavior, and criminology, law and society, said. “Homeboy Industries is a good place to start and we’re looking for other organizations to come together and join forces.
“These kids, they are disadvantaged but they didn’t choose to be here. We could choose to help them, but they couldn’t choose not to be in the life that they are. From a person to another person, we’re all interconnected somehow and we got to do whatever we can to help someone.”
As part of his field study internship at the Carson Sheriff’s Station, Yang acted as a liaison between the campus and the community gang prevention program run by Deputies Fred Noya and Juan Castellanos, helping to bring UCI students and faculty together to collaborate with law enforcements and community youths.
“I used to live right here in Middle Earth and to walk around the campus today was awesome,” said guest speaker Captain Eddie Rivero, an alumnus of UCI who graduated from the School of Social Ecology in 1989 and is the current commander of the Carson Sheriff’s Station. “I feel so proud to be a graduate of UC Irvine and I always tell people that this school taught me so much.”
Rivero, who served for 22 years and took command of the Carson station in April of 2012, extolled the importance of reaching out to the youths and contributing to leading them in a positive direction.
“Any chance you get to have an impact on youths, if we don’t take advantage of that, then shame on us as professionals,” Rivero said. “We have to take every opportunity to impact our youngsters. Programs like the gang diversion team and then bringing them to a major, world-renowned university is so important. These kids are so important, but they’ve got to be told that they are important.”
Two members from Homeboy Industries, Orsy Jerez and Dorene Macias, spoke to the youth about their own personal struggles and life experiences, and what led to their involvement with the organization. Both speakers stressed the importance of education and outreach programs.
“Bringing the youths here brings them out of their environment; they get to see something different,” Macias said. “What it should show them is that they can also be walking around this campus and be a student here, and some of them may not see themselves there yet.”
“You could see how it helps the kids. It really does help them in a lot of ways,” Mario Padilla Jr., a double major in psychology, social and behavior and criminology, law, and society who helped lead the conference, said.
“It motivates them. There are success stories, and that’s what keeps the program running.”