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Gang Prevention Lite

Hard Times Hit Groups for At-Risk Youth
Thursday, January 15, 2009
By Nick Welsh (Contact)

The same week two high — profile Santa Barbara gang killings were scheduled to go to trial-one a sentencing, the other a preliminary hearing — a coalition of six chronically under-funded community groups that have been making it their business to deal with “hard core” gang members and at-risk youth announced they were forming a formal partnership to achieve a degree of financial stability that has so far eluded them.

imageThe new group, Making a Difference Intervention Collaborative (MADIC), hosted its coming-out party early Monday morning at the Franklin Center during a gathering of elected officials, nonprofit administrators, law enforcement executive, and social service agency honchos all focused on reducing youth and gang violence. After a polished video production engineered by Youth Cinemedia, one of the six participating organizations, Zona Seca’s Frank Banales explained the rationale for the new partnership. “There are a lot of youth and a lot of services, but we focus on the hard core, which very few focus on,” he said. Banales noted that many nonprofits work effectively with young people, and that many have long histories and personal connections that helps with fundraising. But they, he said, don’t work with the core population inflicting psychic heartburn and heartache on the South Coast through increased gang violence.

“All of us in government should understand that we’ve been getting a free ride from these groups.” — Ben Romo of County Education

The six organizations that do, he noted, are often drastically underfunded. Their success often derives from the strong personal relationships and trust that their counselors developed over the years with young people attracted to gang life. Those counselors, many of whom have first-hand experience with gang life themselves, may not be that administratively savvy, however. But this past summer, their aid was emphatically enlisted when officials from City Hall, the school district, and a host of social service agencies scrambled to respond to escalating gang violence over the past two years by targeting 82 at-risk students. Ben Romo of County Education, who has played a key role in that effort, strongly endorsed the work of these six, saying, “All of us in government should understand that we’ve been getting a free ride from these groups.”

imageNotwithstanding such enthusiastic endorsements, these organizations — which include Primo Boxing, All for One, Y Strive, Los Compadres (and Comadres), Surf to Turf, and Youth Cinemedia — have suffered from financial instability through most of their existence. To just make ends meet, all six combined need $500,000 this year. Thus far they have raised only $195,000. Many of these groups — such as Primo Boxing, which operates out of an abandoned city fire station on Haley Street — lack the time or organizational resources for fundraising, grant writing, or publicity. Joe and Jean Pommier have transformed the gym into a place to teach young people the rudiments of discipline, hard work, and self-defense. Banales said Primo deals with hundreds of teens a year, making do only on $40,000 a year plus volunteer help. And that doesn’t cover the $60 in gas money the Pommiers personally spent driving a vanload of young boxers to Santa Maria and back last weekend. All six organizations had similar stories to tell and similar needs to plead. Osiris Castaneda of Youth Cinemedia said he needs to reach out to Eastside teens and consequently needs more space. Matt Sanchez of All for One takes members of feuding factions on outdoor trips where they learn to overcome their differences. But such trips cost more money than he makes working as a barber.

imageAt the same meeting at which MADIC’s meeting was announced, Santa Barbara Administrator Jim Armstrong announced that economic realities have taken their toll on plans to create a South Coast Gang Task Force, a permanent quasi-governmental supergroup with a permanent funding stream run by an appointed gang czar. “There’s been an economic meltdown going on, in case you hadn’t heard,” Armstrong said. For the time being, Armstrong has decided not to hire a brand-new executive director. Instead, he will appoint Don Olson, a former city planner now working part-time under Armstrong to serve as the de facto gang czar.

Armstrong will also appoint City Parks & Recreation chief Nancy Rapp to run the prevention and intervention aspect of the program. Parks & Recreation, however, is slated for budget cuts of $1.2 million?-?$1.7 million, prompting some in attendance to wonder whether Rapp will still have sufficient funding herself. Terming the new entity “The South Coast Gang Taskforce Lite,” Armstrong added, “It’s not as grandiose as we thought, but it’s something we can do with existing resources.” He said the executive committee and leadership council should meet for the first time in the next few weeks.

Local Heroes 2008

By Indy Staff
Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Psychologically Speaking

imageBy the time you wind up in one of Jose Camacho’s counseling sessions, chances are you’re already in a fair bit of trouble. Luckily for you, however, spending some time with the coordinator of Zona Seca’s domestic violence counseling program may be your last, best chance to get back on track. Remarkably, in the 10 years he has been facilitating both Spanish and English speaking court-ordered counseling sessions at Zona Seca, the 49-year-old Mexico native figures he has had no more than 15 patients sent back to him for the same situation or crime-a number that becomes even more impressive when you consider he averages about 100 clients a month. With a marked humbleness, Camacho summed up his work by saying simply, “My objective is to keep families together and to give them the opportunity to work… It is just something I love to do.”

A trained psychologist from the University of Mexico, Camacho and his wife-who is a practicing general medicine physician-moved to the Santa Barbara area in 1984. The father of three struggled at first to find work in his field, taking jobs in restaurants and working as a certified nurse assistant at Goleta Valley Hospital and Cottage Hospital before eventually landing at Zona Seca. After four years of running Spanish-speaking group and individual counseling sessions, Camacho-who credits his first-hand understanding of the concept of machismo as being instrumental in his success-was promoted to coordinator status. His approach focuses heavily on communication techniques and, most importantly, self-esteem issues. After all, as Camacho explained it, “If you want to love your family, you need to love yourself first.”

read more…

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Fighting Gangs with Film
Program Gives “High-Risk” Kids an Alternative to Gangbanging

Sunday, November 23, 2008
By Matt Kettmann (Contact)

Since a group of teenagers attacked and killed another teenager in the middle of downtown Santa Barbara on a sunny March 2007 afternoon, everyone — from city councilmembers and cops to business owners and schoolteachers — has been up in arms about what to do about “the gang problem.” Amid committees being formed, speeches being delivered, editorials being written, and neighborhoods being raided, another two teenagers have been stabbed to death and violent battles between the Eastside and Westside gangs — including one incident involving gunfire and a Molotov cocktail on De la Vina Street — occur almost weekly. There has been plenty of talk and some effective police activity, but very little progress in giving these mostly lower-class Latino kids an alternative to gangbanging.

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There is one program, however, that’s working to do just that: Youth CineMedia, founded in January 2003 by filmmaker and activist Osiris Castañeda, offers practical video, photography, and graphic design training for these teenagers, giving them real-world experience working on contracted projects and leaving them with the skills they need to find jobs on their own. The program is just one of six in Santa Barbara targeting “hardcore, high-risk” kids — including some who step in and out of gang life and drug use — and the only one in town educating this demographic every single day of the week. And it’s popular, with about 50 students coming multiple times each week.

But despite its effectiveness in offering these difficult-to-reach kids a daily excuse to avoid gangbanging, Youth CineMedia must continually fight for money to stay alive, and not just as a result of the fierce competition for donations against long-standing “at-risk youth” programs, which don’t really appeal to the hardcore element. The deeper problem is that what it takes to attract these kids and keep them coming — a laid-back, cool, colloquial atmosphere where the conversation is honest but not always politically correct — is not an easy thing to show off to the philanthropists, foundations, and government agencies that donate money to such causes. The challenge, then, for Youth CineMedia and similar hardcore-targeting programs is: Can they remain rough enough to save the tough kids, but become smooth enough to bring in the dough?

In the Studio

imageOver the years, there have been various incarnations of Youth CineMedia all over town, from its early beginnings at Santa Barbara Junior High to its trips through La Cuesta Continuation High School and a little hole-in-the-wall behind the Unity Shoppe. In 2005, when Castañeda won a $250,000 federal grant from the Department of Education, he used the money to bulk up the program by buying new cameras, computers, and other equipment. Since 2007, Youth CineMedia has functioned under the umbrella of Zona Seca, the 38-year-old nonprofit on West Figueroa Street that’s mainly focused on court-mandated drug, alcohol, and domestic violence rehabilitation programs. Today, headquarters is in a classroom at the Westside Community Center, where rent is covered thanks to sponsorship from the Granada Theatre.

During an afternoon visit in September, more than a dozen kids were in the studio, some working on video editing projects, some taping interviews, some making hip-hop beats, some culling through digital photographs, and some just hanging out in a safe place. Although twice the age of some of his students, Castañeda blends right in, which is one of the reasons the kids feel comfortable around him. Using the kids’ own slang, he tried to coax his students to explain why they come to the program. “This gives us an excuse to not be on the streets,” explained one student. “What else are you going to say? ‘I’m going to go help my mom cook’?”

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Another kid finally blurted out, “He can teach you how to get a job and get paid!” It seems sad that making money has to be what a young teenager is worried about, but that’s reality for these kids, and it’s where Youth CineMedia shines. “So many youth programs are trying to help, but they don’t give them the two things they needs the most, which is a job and self-esteem,” explained Castañeda. “If these guys can get a job, they eventually stop banging. Keeping kids busy is the solution.”

One former student agrees. “It kept me out of trouble,” said Steve, who participated in the program years ago while in the eighth grade and turned his experience into a job at Kinko’s, where he became a supervisor within two years. “We come up with an idea, and he helps us make it happen.”

The students, who are mostly Latino and all hail from the Westside — a limitation linked to gangland geography — are working on one or more of the 30-plus projects being developed at any given time. These include educational videos for the City of Santa Barbara’s Creeks Division, public service announcements for the County of Ventura’s AIDS program, and print advertising design for Tinta Latina, El Mexicano, and Shape of Voice, all examples of contracted work that pays participants $10 an hour. These relationships are what Castañeda sees as the future of the program, which he’s poising to grow into a self-sustaining video production and graphic design firm — if he can get the seed money needed to ramp it up to a level where Youth CineMedia can compete with other private firms.

Other students are working on films about school life and public health. With the help of Castañeda’s fiancée Regina Ruiz — a former KEYT reporter who now volunteers full-time with the program, hoping to bring in more young women — a student named Melissa is documenting the increasing use of methamphetamine by high school girls as a diet drug. One video on the Youth Cinemedia Web site tells the story of a teenage mother and her baby girl, where another details what it’s like to grow up around gangs in Santa Barbara.

Perhaps the most powerful pieces still in production are the memorials for stabbing victims Lorenzo “Nemo” Carachure (killed on San Pascual Street on July 16, 2007) and Emmanuel Roldan (killed on Cabrillo Boulevard on July 4, 2008). Those films, which feature tearful interviews with the victims’ parents and powerful pleas for an end to the violence from friends and relatives, will premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in January 2009. “We’re doing it out of respect for the homie,” explained one of the Nemo tribute filmmakers in his thick street drawl. “We want to let people know he wasn’t just into gangbanging. He was a good friend. He brought good things to our life. He was cool to kick it with.”

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So why don’t these kids go to the Westside Boys & Girls Club, the city’s 1235 Teen Center on Chapala Street, or any of the other programs targeting “at-risk” youth? “Because you don’t learn anything — you just play games or shoot pool,” said the other Nemo filmmaker, further explaining, “There’s really no Mexicans that go there.” Some of the kids said that they’ve actually been kicked out of such places or that they fear narcs are lurking there, ready to tell on them for swearing, hanging out with the wrong people, and other offenses that they deem ridiculous.

Because Santa Barbara is a small town with plenty of politics involved, Castañeda can’t afford to be critical of other programs. But he’s not afraid to hide his frustration that some of the same programs seem to get all the money while he has to fight for every dollar that comes to Youth CineMedia, which he sees as uniquely successful at helping the high-risk kids. “I don’t know what the other people do,” he explained, “but I know that what we do works.”

Castañeda’s former student Steve, however, spoke a little more freely about the other programs in town. “They don’t work,” he said. “They really don’t work.” On the other hand, when it comes to Youth CineMedia, Steve explained, “If you’re in the hood, people talk about this place.”

Show Them the Money

If the goal of Youth CineMedia is to become a self-sustaining video production and graphic design firm, how much money will it take to make that happen? According to Frank Bañales, Zona Seca’s executive director, about $250,000 would be probably enough for the first year’s annual budget, which would allow the business to get off the ground.

But he knows finding that money for a relatively new project can be difficult, especially in a town where long-standing “at-risk” programs automatically get the money. “When you have to compete with these programs around forever, you’re just not going to attract that support,” said Bañales, who is also not critical of those programs, just bothered by the system.

Bañales and his board — which is currently undergoing unprecedented growth, jumping from just four members a year ago to 10 and counting — believe wholeheartedly in Youth CineMedia because it is one of only six programs in Santa Barbara targeting the hardcore, high-risk population. The other five are Primo Boxing, All-for-One, Y Strife, Los Compadres, and Surf-to-Turf, but most of those still aren’t offered daily, as Youth CineMedia is. “These are the only ones that really target this population and have been working with them for quite a while,” he said, adding that the other similarity is all six barely manage to stay afloat. “But if these programs weren’t out there, the problem in the community would be much worse.”

Bañales freely admits that Zona Seca cannot keep supporting Youth CineMedia forever, especially since it’s the only program under the nonprofit that doesn’t support itself. Zona Seca has never been much for fundraising, but because of the promise of Youth CineMedia and the rise in teen violence, the expanded board decided to support it nonetheless. “But it’s a year-to-year thing for us,” he explained. “Each year we have to make the decision of what we’re willing to risk. You can’t sacrifice all of our programs for one program, no matter who you’re working with.”

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In the October board meeting, they decided to support it at least through June 2009, a decision that was aided in part by a $17,000 grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation, which Bañales sees as a donor stamp of approval. They’ve also helped raise other funding, but the program is already behind budget this year.

Both he and Castañeda see a promising model in Homeboy Industries, a 20-year-old job program out of Los Angeles that’s expanded into a bakery, café, silkscreen shop, and retail store. “We have that potential with this program,” said Bañales. “But like any enterprise, you have to have investment dollars to get started.”

Oddly, thanks to the recent rise in gang activity, Bañales is hopeful that now might be the right time to get that money. “There is only a certain window of opportunity for this community, and that is when someone gets murdered on State Street,” he said. “The window is still open, but it’s starting to close.”

Compounding the problem in Bañales’s eyes is that he believes society has already given up on many of these high-risk kids, an attitude that is needed for everyone to support the wide-ranging police raids and gang suppression strategies. “Because of that perception, people give up on them,” he explained. “And when they give up on them, they have no hope.”

According to Castañeda, giving up on these kids at this point is the wrong way to go. “The truth is these are really good, respectful people, who say, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and open the door for their girlfriends,” he explained. “These guys aren’t that lost. They can turn it around.”

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For more information, see youthcinemedia.org or tune in to YCM’s new “Street Focus” column at independent.com/street-focus.

Local Nonprofit Zona Seca Appoints Long-time Youth Advocate to Board of Directors
New Appointee’s Experience and Passion Valuable to Organization’s Mission

October 15, 2008
By Matt Kettmann (Contact)

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Santa Barbara – Local substance abuse and counseling organization Zona Seca, Inc., announced today the addition of Judy Rossiter, co-owner of a marketing and public relations company serving the nonprofit sector in north Santa Barbara County, to its board of directors.

“Judy’s experience working with young people in the nonprofit arena and her connection to the community will prove to be a valuable asset to our leadership team,” Zona Seca Executive Director Frank Banales said. “We are very fortunate to have her aboard. Her passion for working with kids is incredible and exactly the kind of energy needed to succeed in the type of work we do.”

Rossiter has a broad background in both for-profit and nonprofit work, including teaching at various grade levels, youth ministry, and serving on several committees focused on education. Rossiter was the director of development for the United Boys and Girls Club of Santa Barbara County and was later recruited to work in the same capacity for the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Rossiter has been central to the development of a new nonprofit organization, SOS California, dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of natural gas and oil seep pollution in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Rossiter says her passion for education, social change, and helping young people in need is what drew her to Zona Seca’s Youth Cinemedia program, which teaches local hard core high-risk youth marketable media skills while providing a positive alternative to gangs, violence, and substance abuse.

“I love the Youth CineMedia Program,” Rossiter said. “It is very hands-on, heart-centered and focused on the kids. I am thrilled as a new board member to be in a position to help this program continue to grow and change the lives of troubled young people in our community.”

Zona Seca, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing professional and cost-effective substance abuse counseling intervention and prevention services to the local community. Programs address youth offenders, driving under the influence, family violence, and drug diversion. Zona Seca has been serving the community for over 37 years with offices in downtown Santa Barbara and Lompoc, and is often referred to as “the best-kept secret in Santa Barbara.”

Renowned Community Leader Appointed to Zona Seca’s Board of Directors

May 5, 2008

Santa Barbara – Local substance abuse and counseling organization Zona Seca, Inc., announced today the addition of Sylvia Muñoz Schnopp, owner and president of Oxnard-based Schnopp Consulting Group, to its board of directors.

In addition to working as a consultant, Schnopp has also volunteered for eight years with City Impact, an Oxnard-based program similar to Zona Seca. Having been responsible for the Santa Barbara region during her time as Marketing and Public Relations Manager for AT&T Wireless Services, she was already familiar with Zona Seca and the work it did in the community.

Sylvia is also actively involved with the Ventura County Economic Develop Association (VCEDA), where she has held positions on the board of directors, executive committee, and the Economic and Environmental Policy Leadership Committee (EPLC).

“Sylvia will be a great addition to the board,” Zona Seca Board Chair Lin Graf said. “She brings an extensive amount of experience from different communities and her insight will prove to be invaluable to build on the success Zona Seca has had.”

“We are happy to have Ms. Schnopp join the board of directors,” Zona Seca Executive Director Frank Banales said. “Her presence will ensure Zona Seca continues its tradition for having excellent community leaders.”

Schnopp’s community involvement includes: College Trustee Candidate for office, City Impact, Gold Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Interface, Ventura County Community Foundation, The Museum of Ventura County, Oxnard College, United Way, and Lied Children’s Discovery Museum (Las Vegas, NV). Sylvia was also featured as a guest writer for Mi Estrella, a bilingual newspaper produced by the Ventura County Star. She currently lives in Port Hueneme with her two sons.

Zona Seca, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing professional and cost-effective substance abuse counseling intervention and prevention services to the local community. Programs address youth offenders, driving under the influence, family violence, and drug diversion. The agency is also home to the nationally-recognized Youth CineMedia program, which teaches local at-risk youth marketable media skills, while providing a positive alternative to gangs, violence, and substance abuse.

Zona Seca has been serving the community for over 37 years with offices in downtown Santa Barbara and Lompoc, and is often referred to as “the best-kept secret in Santa Barbara.”

Opinion: Youth CineMedia diverts kids from gangs

Iya G. Falcone

May 4, 2008 8:19 AM

Many people come to Santa Barbara for its well-known treasures: our beaches, parks, cultural experiences and great weather. Recently, people have discovered one of our hidden community treasures — Zona Seca’s Youth CineMedia Program.

I am honored by the appointment to the Zona Seca Board of Directors, which for 37 years has played a valuable role in the local community, helping residents overcome substance abuse, violence, truancy and gang participation.

As we move beyond the one-year anniversary of the fatal State Street stabbing of Luis “Angel” Linares, a 15-year-old local boy, and with the growing problem of youth violence, Santa Barbara residents are faced with the need to come together as a community. I firmly believe we need to support programs that teach our youth varied and marketable skills upon which they can build a successful future.

Youth CineMedia is an outreach and intervention program that provides young people ages 13 to 19 the opportunity to learn about film production by developing skills in video production, photography, music engineering, graphic design, animation, editing, Web-design and T-shirt printing.

Zona Seca Executive Director Frank Banales has high hopes for the students that pass through his doors. He believes the program gives at-risk teens the chance to feel hopeful about their futures.

Mr. Banales and I share the same hopes for these teens — hopes that they will begin to look within themselves to see the talented, creative, valuable, capable individuals they are, ones who have bright futures regardless of their pasts.

Youth CineMedia has become a nationally and internationally recognized outreach program and has garnered the attention of several high-profile individuals, including two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Rigoberta Menchu and Desmond Tutu, a world-renowned foreign film director, and other city leaders.

El Paso City Council member Steve Ortega and City Services Coordinator Mark Alvarado were in town last month to exchange ideas on community-based programs and policies to combat crime and end youth violence. They personally observed the program and were very excited by what they saw.

The CineMedia students had the opportunity to show their documentaries and movies to the visitors. It was clear they were impressed by the skill and creativity with which the students used cutting-edge technology. The visitors from El Paso, which is a sister city of Santa Barbara, gave the students positive feedback on their work, noted the program’s clear motivational qualities, and even purchased a film from one of the young students.

Founder and director of Youth CineMedia, Osiris Castaneda, said it was exciting to see his students recognized by another city’s representatives. He said it allows them to realize that community leaders from a variety of areas value their achievements regardless of what area, or neighborhood, they come from.

More recently, world-renowned Argentinean filmmaker Fernando “Pino” Solanas — in town for a lecture at UCSB — visited with Ms. Castaneda and the students. The interaction gave the students a unique opportunity to receive a once-in-a-lifetime critique from one of the globe’s experts. Mr. Solanas was said to be very impressed with the caliber of work and commitment he observed in the students.

Santa Barbara is at the forefront in the fight against gang violence and now possesses a unique tool. Youth CineMedia not only provides a short-term impact on the lives of these young people by keeping them off the streets, but has the benefits of teaching them marketable, real-world skills that will serve them beyond their teenage years.

As a council member for the city of Santa Barbara for over six years, I have seen the attention gained by Youth CineMedia and the example it brings to other communities. It is my hope that such attention will ignite a continued support for the battle against youth violence from both city and regional residents. We need many more good programs that teach our youth the skills to be successful in life.

The author is a member of the Santa Barbara City Council.

Opinion: Preventing youth violence with a video camera

Cam Sanchez

December 16, 2007 9:16 AM

Youth violence has found more targets. Earlier this year, a 15-year-old boy was stabbed to death in broad daylight in downtown Santa Barbara. In July, there was another stabbing in the college community of Isla Vista that left a young man with a punctured lung.

While seemingly out of character for Santa Barbara County, these incidents of acts of youth violence that have taken place in our community in recent months continue to shock everyone.

As the city of Santa Barbara’s police chief, I have witnessed first-hand the senselessness and escalation of youth crime in our community.

There is a common misperception that this type of violence is always a product of a specific group, culture or environment. The sad fact is that youth violence plagues all communities, and, like drug and alcohol abuse, crosses all ethnic lines and socio-economic boundaries.

As a law enforcement official, I also believe it is equally important to be personally involved in preventive measures to deter our young people from ever choosing a path of crime and violence.

Toward that end, in October, I became a board member of a local nonprofit substance abuse counseling organization called Zona Seca, or “dry zone.” With offices downtown and in Lompoc, Zona Seca has served more than 60,000 Santa Barbara County residents of all ages with affordable counseling and rehabilitation services. But for me, what was most inspiring about Zona Seca was its award-winning Youth CineMedia program that provides teens with a truly wonderful alternative to truancy, violence, drug use and gangs. It’s a nationally recognized early prevention program, and yet, ironically, it is Santa Barbara County’s best kept secret. I hope to change that.

Zona Seca’s Youth CineMedia program allows local at-risk teens to enroll in free classes and hands-on training to learn skills such as video production, photography, graphic design, and music engineering, among others. They then use these skills and state-of-the-art equipment to create professional level media products. YCM students can earn school credit, community service hours, fulfill court probation requirements, or simply learn valuable and marketable skills from experts in the field.

It’s one of the most valuable alternatives to idle time I’ve seen developed for local teens. Just last month, students from YCM developed video public service announcements for the city of Santa Barbara Creeks Division, helping the agency educate local Spanish-speaking residents about various environmental considerations associated with living near and along the local creek beds.

Youth CineMedia Director Osiris Castaneda says his goal is not only to help teens who are heading toward trouble and gangs, but to reach young people before they ever have to make those tough lifestyle choices. Mr. Castaneda personally reaches out to local teens where they hang out after school — at youth clubs, on basketball courts, and those on detention — to tell them about the program.

Success stories are becoming commonplace for YCM. Mr. Castaneda tells of one young man who entered the program in 2006 as a teenager. He was heading in the wrong direction; he was on probation and addicted to methamphetamine. However, he quickly became one of YCM’s most talented students, and went on to create a documentary about gang life and his new desire to go to college instead of continuing on a path that could lead to disaster in his life and that of his family and community.

Mr. Castaneda proudly reports that today the young man has a good job and attends college full-time. His story is representative of a simple but vital axiom: If we provide teens with a useful skill and sense of purpose in their community, they will gain self-worth and be more likely to succeed in life.

I urge all Santa Barbara County residents to become involved in efforts and organizations like Zona Seca that seek to improve opportunities for local young people, before they make wrong choices. By promoting these meaningful alternatives, we can maximize early prevention efforts and encourage more at-risk teens to be involved in learning marketable skills that will benefit their future and our economy.

Zona Seca’s Youth CineMedia program has developed at least one method to do exactly that: putting teens behind a video camera to keep them from participating in unhealthy and dangerous activities that could alter their lives in a negative way, which could include not only incarceration, but even worse, the loss of another young life.

The author is the chief of police for the city of Santa Barbara and serves on the board of directors for Zona Seca Inc.