WATSONVILLE — Efforts to keep young people in Watsonville from getting into trouble after school got a boost recently with a $380,000 grant from the state.
The competitive grant from the California Gang Reduction, Intervention, and Prevention program (CalGRIP) will help the Watsonville Police Department, Pajaro Valley Unified School District and Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance to continue to offer services such as gang prevention, intervention and suppression activities focused on at-risk youth.
“We’re really excited,” said Coresta Salas, who runs the Watsonville Police Activities League. “With the loss of the finding we’ve had, this will allow us to sustain some of our programs and to move forward for the next two years.”
Under the program, called the “Adelante Program” which is Spanish for forward, Watsonville Police gang units will continue to focus on habitual violent gang offenders.
But the efforts will begin before that, with a focus by social workers on third- through ninth-graders deemed at risk of getting involved with gangs.
Under the program, the young people will get services from PVPSA and the Watsonville PAL, both of which will provide services through a curriculum known as “Guiding Good Choices.”
Salas said the funding comes at a time when two other grants were ending, placing some of the group’s activities at risk. The new grants, she said, are a “stepping stone” from the previous ones.
“This will help us sustain a portion of the programs,” Salas said.
Officials from those organizations will meet in January to hammer out the details to figure out just how the grant will be utilized.
What is certain, however, is that caseworkers will continue making contact with families and with young people who have trouble with truancy, getting bad grades and otherwise getting into trouble at school.
They will also look for kids who have gang involvement and who have a lack of supportive adults in their lives, and provide “pro-social” programs.
“It’s a great comprehensive plan that uses proven strategies that will help us focus on the geographical area of Watsonville and give us a goal to work toward,” Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano said.
PAL is a 13-year-old program that offers basketball, soccer, martial arts and field trips, among other things, all designed to give kids age 4-21 positive after-school activities. The organization also oversees the Watsonville Police Department Cadet program.
But like many programs, it has faced budget cuts.
Much of the program’s $155,000 budget comes from the city’s general fund, but for the remainder organizers rely on grants, donations and fundraising events.
The city of Watsonville in June backed off on a plan to cut the funding, opting instead to fund about $100,000.
“It couldn’t come at a better time due to our budget cuts,” Solano said of the new grant. “Right now we don’t have the money for it in our current budget.”
Watsonville was one of 20 agencies statewide that were chosen for the competitive grant, which was awarded to those who could show their programs are working, Solano said.
Approximately 50 applied for the grant, he said.
Solano pointed to surveys of local young people who report being scared and feeling pressure from gangs.
“We’re able to make good breakthroughs so we can save lives and keep the kids safe,” he said. “This will help us protect our youth even more.”
To refer a young person, contact Pajaro Valley Prevention & Student Assistance at 728-6445.
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