When the temperature rises and school is out, young people in neighborhoods with few resources and activities to keep them busy are at a higher risk of getting into trouble, statistics show.
It’s a fact that city officials and law enforcement are well aware of, and the reason behind a program that keeps many city of Los Angeles parks and recreation centers open after dark during the summer.
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Now in its eighth year, the Summer Night Lights (SNL) program offers free sports, art and crafts and other activities along with meals to youth and their families in many of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods.
Highland Park resident Teresa Martinez has been taking her children to the Highland Park Recreation Center for the last two years for some summer fun.
“There are a lot of activities going on and the Summer Night Lights program is very popular in this area,” she told EGP Monday. “They offer free food, drinks, music, raffles, a lot of stuff,” she said.
This year, Martinez’s 10-year old daughter will play on a softball team while her 13-year old son hopes to join a basketball team.
When young people are busy doing things they enjoy, they are less likely to get into trouble or be recruited into gangs, according to then councilman, and now Mayor Eric Garcetti when he spearheaded the program eight years ago as a way to combat gang activity in Glassell Park and surrounding neighborhoods. In partnership with the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) and the City of Los Angeles, the “park after dark” program has since expanded to 32 locations across the city.
SNL has proven to be a good tool for reducing violent crime while promoting peace, positive activities, and healthy outcomes for residents, according to the GRYD. Summer Night Lights focuses on areas most impacted by gang violence, unemployment, and with high concentrations of youth and young adults.
“This is a great opportunity to participate with the youth and create a positive point” of contact, LAPD Northeast Division Sgt. Christopher Gomez told EGP. He said his Special Problem Unit oversees the Glassell Park and Highland Park locations, helping families feel more comfortable about their young people taking part in night time activities.
Martinez said she was at first reluctant to take her children to the park where some sports programs can run until 11 p.m. Those fears have since been allayed: “There is always a lot of police activity and there’s a lot of parent involvement too,” she explained about why she’s now glad Summer Night Lights is offered in Highland Park.
According to GRYD, in 2014 over 900,000 visits were reported across all 32 Summer Night Lights sites. There was a 15.4% reduction in gang-related crime— Wednesdays through Saturday between June 25 and Aug. 9 — compared to the same period in 2013. Over half a million meals were served during the hours of the program.
According to officials, more than 10,000 youth have participated in soccer, basketball and baseball sports leagues and in sports clinics with the LA Kings, LA Galaxy, LA D-fenders, Play Rubgy USA, CHIVAS USA, and WNBA/Coca Cola.
The evening programs run from 7pm to 11pm, Wednesday to Saturday in selected parks and recreation centers. Some of the citywide activities offered this year include:
— Arts: nightly art workshops, culinary arts, silk-screening, mural painting, zumba, hip-hop dance and poetry.
— Sports leagues: basketball, softball and/or soccer leagues for all ages;
— Special events: music concerts, health/fitness, movie nights, science and literacy resources;
— Nightly healthy meals;
— Department of Public Health Resources.
The program will also hire some youth, ages 17-24, to work at site locations. In 2014, 1,068 local jobs were created and 325 at-risk youth were hired and provided on-going training.
Added this year is a pre-program assessment focused on identifying educational careers and goals for youth involved in the Summer Night Light program.
Local Summer Night Lights Locations:
– Glassell Park Recreation Center:
3707 Verdugo Rd. 90065
– Highland Park Recreation Center:
6150 Piedmont Ave. 90042
– Costello Recreation Center:
3141 E. Olympic Blvd. 90023
– El Sereno Recreation Center:
4721 Klamath St. 90032
– Montecito Heights Recreation Center:
4545 Homer St. 90031
– Ramon Garcia Recreation Center:
1016 Fresno St. 90023
– Ramona Gardens Recreation Center:
2830 Lancaster Ave. 90033
– Cypress Park Recreation Center:
2630 Pepper Ave. 90065
For more information, visit: http://grydfoundation.org/programs/summer-night-lights/
As Estela Montoya watches her son Fernando Ramirez keeping a close eye on the younger kids in the swimming pool, she can’t help but remember that it was just a couple years ago that he started the lifeguard-training program. Now, at age 17, he is one of the lifeguards who will be on duty this summer at the Glassell Park swimming pool.
Montoya and her son are among the thousands of families who will benefit from “Operation Splash,” a program that offers a variety of swim programs to low-income families.
She told EGP that it was friends and neighbors who a few years ago first told her about the free swimming lessons available at Glassell Park, and she decided to enroll her son. “This is good for most of us because we don’t have swimming pools at home,” she said. “It gives us a fun place to bring our children,” she told EGP.
Just in time for summer, Operation Splash is back for its 9th consecutive year at 33 pools throughout the City of Los Angeles. The three-month program from June to August, offers free-swim lessons to low-income youth and adults. At 22 pools, youth, ages 10-17, can take part for free in the junior lifeguard program, the same program that prepared Ramirez for his lifeguard job this summer.
“He works here and enjoys it very much,” said his proud mother. “Now he knows how to take care of the kids” as they swim, she said.
On Tuesday morning, the 2014 Operation Splash summer program was kicked off at Glassell Park pool. Among those attending the opening ceremonies was First District Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood. “The one thing government has to do is get more public space for the community,” said Cedillo as he welcomed the group of children standing by ready to jump into the pool.
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“Through Operation Splash low-income families are able to come and learn how to swim for free,” Dr. Jack Der-Sarkissian with Kaiser Permanente told EGP. “We want kids to be active this summer and enjoy [their] local pool,” he added.
Operation Splash is a partnership between Kaiser Permanente, LA84 Foundation and the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. It is part of Kaiser Permamente’s Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) program, focused on reducing obesity by encouraging more safe physical activity and healthy, affordable food.
LA84 Foundation is a legacy of the 1984 Olympic games and its vice-president, Patrick Escobar, told EGP that for the last 28 years they have given yearly grants to the City of L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks for the swimming programs.
“After they learn how to swim they can participate in other activities, such as water polo, synchronized swimming and diving, which we also support,” Escobar said.
Although the Kaiser grant is only for the summer programs, the LA84 Foundation’s grant is good year-round and helps support the lifeguard and water sports programs.
“We are very fortunate to have the Junior Lifeguard program,” said Vicki Israel, assistant general manager of parks and recreation. She said her department eventually hires many of the junior lifeguards to work as [real] lifeguards. “We do not only get them hooked on swimming, but they get jobs in the future,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with learning about swimming and water safety,” she added.
This year, with the help of the $265,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente and $84,000 grant from LA84, the Operation Splash summer program will offer 6,000 swim-lesson scholarships to low-income families; 780 youth will take part in the Junior Lifeguard program, and parks and recreation centers will host over 2,000 youth in its competitive swim programs, including Special Olympics athletes-in-training.
Richard Rincon, aquatics facility manager at Glassell Park pool, told EGP that their site stilll has about 75 scholarships left for youth ages 4 to 17 and adults.
“For the 4-7 year-olds class, we have the parent go with the child in the water,” Rincon said.
In total, out of the 6,000 scholarships available, only 3,500 have been given out across the city, Israel said.
Escobar said the LA84 Foundation encourages parents to teach their kids to swim, because “drowning is the second highest cause of death among children,” He said it’s also never too late for parents who also want to learn to swim, since they offer classes are for all age groups.
“Parents shouldn’t be afraid to bring their kids if they don’t know how to swim,” Escobar said, “We have lifeguards that are properly trained to take care of them,” he said confidently.
In Northeast L.A., the pool programs taking part in Operation Splash this summer, include; Glassell Park, Highland Park, and the Yosemite Recreation Center in Eagle Rock. On the eastside, Costello, Pecan, Richard Alatorre and Roosevelt are in the program.
For more information and locations, visit www.laparks.org or call (323) 906-7953.