Dreams and Futures Replace Gangs for Mountain View Youth
Entering the 1990s, Mountain View was one of many cities in California and the nation struggling with a dramatic increase in gang-related crime and the violence and injuries it produces. In 1992, the City's gang-related cases increased 18 percent; in 1993, they were up 27 percent; in 1994, the increase was nine percent.
Responding to the problem, City officials recognized that their efforts to control gang-related crime must contain a balance of gang prevention, gang intervention and gang suppression, or enforcement efforts. It also was imperative, they believed, that the community feel some ownership of the growing gang problem and function as an active partner with the City, local schools and the Police Department in countering the problem.
In late 1995, the Mountain View Police Department, along with Foothill College, Mountain View Elementary School District, Whisman School District and 25 other community organizations and local businesses began developing a pilot gang prevention program, ultimately titled Dreams and Futures. In the summer of 1996, the program involved 45 at-risk children in a two-and-a-half week, full-day program of academics, athletics and enrichment activities. The first year of the program was completed without the use of public funds, relying solely on community support and volunteers, including 25 Mountain View Police Officers who donated off-duty time.
In Mountain View, the majority of youth involved in gangs are children of recent immigrants, children who often do not feel part of the larger society and who, in their early adolescent years, often are attracted to gangs. Dreams and Futures was designed to target these at-risk children, to boost their self-esteem, to provide them with skills and opportunities for success, and to assist them in identifying with the larger society so that when they enter the group identity stage in their lives, they will make positive peer choices and distance themselves from gangs.
Academics, Athletics, Enrichment
The Dreams and Futures program targets fourth- through seventh-graders who have been identified by their elementary and middle school teachers and administrators as at-risk of gang involvement. The three components of the Dreams and Futures program were designed to meet specific goals for these children:
In summer, the two-and-a-half-week program runs Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and includes the academic and athletic components. Each day, the academic component provides five hours of basic writing and computer skills development. The athletic component consists of two week-long sports camps -- soccer and basketball -- which run two hours per day.
The enrichment component of the program follows the completion of the summer session and is designed to get the children involved in activities -- sports leagues and other community programs and activities -- throughout the school year.
Strong Community Support
In 1996, more than 25 local businesses and community-based organizations donated products, lunches and employee time to the program. Local restaurants and retailers donated more than 700 lunches. Donations of sports equipment enabled the program to put a new basketball or new soccer ball in the hands of each program participant. The Mountain View Elementary and Whisman School Districts assisted with recruitment and with transportation of the children to the community college program site. Foothill College provided an instructor and the facilities for the academic component of the program, as well as college shirts for the children, a bus and a part-time driver. Twenty-five Officers and other members of the Mountain View Police Department donated their time as coaches for sports camps, instructors for some of the academic components, and assistants in other daily operations of the program.
The Dreams and Futures program, it was discovered, also improved relations among parents and their children, the business community, community service clubs and the Mountain View Police Department. Many positive relationships were developed during the planning and implementation of the first year of the program, and lines of communication that opened then have remained open.
Positive Impact on Participants
The Mountain View Police Department reports that, to date, none of the 45 children who attended the 1996 Dreams and Futures summer program have become involved in gangs. School officials also report no involvement in gangs or related behavioral or truancy problems on the part of any of the 1996 Dreams and Futures participants attending their schools last year.
In addition, many of the 1996 program participants became active participants in other community activities during the remainder of the year; these included the Mayor's Youth Conference in October, the Thanksgiving Food Bank program, and YMCA sports leagues.
Mountain View police officials see the continuation and growth of Dreams and Futures as a reflection of the program's success. In 1997, the program was expanded to accept 80 at-risk children, almost doubling its first-year capacity. Community donations as well as the number of volunteer hours needed to maintain the program kept pace with this expansion -- a good indication of community support for the program -- and the City Council and the Mountain View Elementary and Whisman School District boards voted to add their funding for the Fiscal Year 1997-98 program. The 1998 program, with 70 children participating, ended in August.
"The Dreams and Futures program reflects the City Council's commitment to youth-focused initiatives," says Mountain View Mayor Ralph Faravelli. It also reflects a practical approach to the problem: "It's easier to keep a kid out of gangs than to convince them to quit a gang," he says.
Additional information on the program is available from Captain Jim Enslen, Mountain View Police Department, at (650) 903-6350.
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright ©1996, U.S. Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.