SOUTH COUNTY — Sun Street Centers’ Road to Success program is offering a chance for youth in South County to make the shift to positive behaviors after having a setback.
Denis Velasquez oversees the grant-funded program, which is a collaboration with all four South Monterey County cities, King City, Greenfield, Soledad and Gonzales.
“When youth make initial contact with law enforcement there are a couple quick things that happen,” Velasquez said. “The law enforcement officer determines whether the youth is a first-time offender.”
Part of what the officer is looking at is whether the crime was non-violent, such as driving without a license, fighting on campus, possession of marijuana or a substance, or truancy.
The grant that Sun Street Centers receives for the program covers youth ages 13 to 17, but this year the program will open up to 12 year olds. All participants must live in South County.
Through the Road to Success program, the qualified youth perform community service acts within their own city and find activities that are a positive outlet for them.
In Gonzales, the Recreation Department is offering activities along with the schools, such as sports, and the Painte Studio owned by Corali Garcia is one of the other outlets for Gonzales youth.
In Soledad and King City, mental health services are being offered.
“The youth are also expected to meet with a small panel of volunteers to discuss how their actions affect our community,” Velasquez said. “They are expected to participate in an eight- to 10-week life skills training to better their communication skills, to cope with anxiety and anger.”
The program is taking youth out for rewards when they complete its different stages. Among the rewards are visiting college campuses, going to the movies, miniature golf and even zip-lining.
“Once all the requirements are met, our responsibility then is to provide that information to the police department,” Velasquez said. “Then they drop that initial charge that brought the youth to our program. Then that gives them an opportunity to have a clean record and move forward with a clean record.”
In the first year of the Road to Success program, Sun Street Centers received 40 referrals from the four South County city police departments.
Recently, the program had 100 referrals in just one week.