Face Painting Brings Joy to Kids, Extra Income to Family

News Feature, Karina Guadalupe

Joselin Reyes, 20, arrived at the park ready to begin a two-hour volunteer shift of face painting, signaling the start of the summer-long “Funky Fridays” program at Elm Playlot, also known as Pogo Park, in the middle of the Iron Triangle.

A talented artist, Joselin says her interest in art and make-up goes back to when she was young.
“I started with my make-up,” she explains, describing how she would practice on her younger sister. “[Last year] my next door neighbor who sells shoes at the flea market saw my little sister and told me I should go to the flea market and do that.”

It was a much-needed opportunity for Joselin to supplement her family’s income, in a town where jobs for young people are especially hard to come by.

According to Cindy Sugrue, a consultant with the California Development Department, the current unemployment rate for 16-19 year-olds in Richmond is 49.8 percent. Director of the City of Richmond Summer Youth Employment, Jay Leonhardy, says the number could actually be higher, “especially in [Richmond’s] most challenged neighborhoods.”

Joselin’s family, like many others in Richmond, was already going to the flea market every weekend to sell handmade bracelets and rosaries. On Saturdays they went to the Concord Flea Market, and on Sundays to the one in Antioch. Joselin was offered a small space at the family’s stand, and it didn’t take long before she was doing face painting for customers.

She started off doing simple make-up work, but has since moved on to cartoon characters and full-face designs. “I really like to freestyle and do my own designs. The boys love zombies and superheroes, and the girls like butterflies and anything that looks cute.”

Her family was struggling financially before they decided to open their own small business at the flea market. “It was bad,” recalls Joselin. “We would have to borrow money from others. The only one working at the time was my mom and there’s five of us, plus dogs. With the face painting and selling bracelets at the flea market, money is not so tight anymore.”

A true artist, Joselin is happy whenever she gets the opportunity to paint a face. Back at Pogo Park, what was supposed to be a two-hour shift extends to three, without a break, as she happily continues painting kids faces. But of course, it’s even better when she gets paid.

“If we wanted to go out to eat (before we started selling at the flea market) we couldn’t, because money was not enough. But now we can eat out; we can go buy things we couldn’t buy back then,” she says.
In addition to her family’s stand at the flea markets in Concord and Antioch, Joselin has also been hired to paint faces at birthday parties and community events.

Anyone interested in her services can contact Joselin’s Face Painting at (510) 672-8328.

Question of the Month: Small Biz Community Weighs in on Soda Tax

Compiled by Monica Quesada

QUESTION: If the Soda Tax is approved by Richmond voters in November, do you think people will stop buying soda? And if passed, how do you think the tax would affect your business?

Sunny Lee, 53, owner of Tarabini’s Deli

“It’s going to make the drinks too expensive and people are not going to buy it, so I signed for ‘no.’ In my opinion, I will have to cover the tax.”

Ramon Franco, 33, owner of Salsa Taqueria

“People are going to keep buying as usual. If the law passes, I just up the price what I have to. This is like cigarettes — they up the price to death, but the one that smokes keeps on smoking. If somebody wants a coke, they will pay (for it).”

Ivan Tian, owner of Joy Cafe

“I think people will stop buying, because it turns too expensive. It won’t affect us a lot because we sell other drinks, like milkshakes and coffee.”

Joyce Wu, 30, employee at Joy Cafe

“I’m against people drinking too much soda. It will affect my business, but I am for it. I was a nurse before and I think health is more important. Otherwise, the government has to pay for the medical bills.”

Susana Ayala, 27, employee at Lee’s Donuts

“People are going to keep buying because they have that habit, even if the price goes up. They will complain for a little bit and then they will have to pay. Maybe the first few days it will affect the business, but once they see the price went up everywhere, they will get used to it and will start buying again.”

Kevin Lee, 30, employee at Lee’s Donuts

“We are against it, that is why we have a sign outside. It’s not good for the city, because [people] might go buy [sodas] outside of the city.”

Brenda Cornejo, 18, employee at Bart Mart

“I think people will keep on buying, although maybe the store will have a drop in sales, because there are people with low incomes.  But I think they will keep on buying, anyways.”

Madeline Alvarado, 18, employee at Bart Mart

“They will keep on buying, because these are drinks that they consume daily.  They will keep on seeing [soda] in the store, and they might not buy as often but they will keep on buying.”

Amar Nasser, 29, co-owner of Bart Mart

“I think they will stop buying sodas because they are more expensive, especially when they can go to San Pablo and buy it cheaper there. It will affect my business and a lot of businesses in Richmond. I think we have to stop it from happening. It’s gotten kind of expensive.  And we [business owners] are not [the ones] paying that tax — the customers are paying. [Bart Mart] sells mostly sodas and bottles and all that stuff, so it is going to affect me a lot.”

Summer Dance Party Celebrating Healthy Eating and Active Living

Press Release, Youth Enrichment Strategies

Summertime provides the opportunity to get outdoors and be active. However, Richmond’s city streets don’t always conjure up the image of physical activity the same way a tree-filled park or shoreline does. This summer, a diverse group of Iron Triangle residents has been bucking the trend by coming up with ways to get exercise and be healthy in their own neighborhood – and they’re fired up about the way it’s making them feel.

“I enjoy coming together with other people in the community sharing healthy meals and being active together,” stated Helida Solorio. Helida and the other members of her Health and Wellness Committee have been learning all about the benefits of good nutrition and exercise for the past several months thanks to workshops and presentations provided by members of the Healthy Eating, Active Living, or HEAL collaborative.

Demetria Saunders, of Youth Enrichment Strategies (YES), facilitates the group on behalf of HEAL.
“When I asked the committee what they would like to do this summer, they brainstormed several ideas about being active which didn’t require having to drive somewhere. Yoga, swimming at the Plunge, a walk to Richmond’s Miller/Know Regional Park, and a dance are some of the things they came up with” stated Demetria.

Committee members have been organizing the dance for the past month and a half and are excited to get the word out to other residents. “We wanted to have fun, play some tunes, and get our groove on,” long-time resident Doris Mason explained. “This is a way to bring our community out of their homes to build relationships and break a little sweat.”

The dance will be held on August 3rd from 5:00pm – 8:00pm at Lillie Mae Jones Garden located at 257 6th Street in Richmond. In addition to dancing, it will include fun activities for the entire family.

It is free and committee members are encouraging both parents and youth to attend. Healthy snacks and beverages will be sold for a modest fee.

If you are interested in joining the Iron Triangle resident Health and Wellness Committee, or have suggestions about how to promote health and wellness in your neighborhood, please contact YES and Demetria Saunders at 510-232-3032.

Coronado YMCA, MFI, Team Up for Resource Fair

News Feature, Taisa Grant

The Coronado YMCA was at the center of this city’s ongoing community-building efforts when it hosted a resource fair on June 30th to bring tangible and basic resources to community members.

Edward Hamilton, a Richmond resident who lives on the corner of Ohio Street, two blocks away from the YMCA, heard about the event from a co-worker. He said the “diaper-drive” and resource fair are just what the community needs. He believes events such as these create opportunities for the community to come together and talk, which can then prevent fighting and ultimately, end violence. It’s a reminder, said Hamilton, that “without each other we’re not going to make it.” It’s a lesson he said he hopes will be learned by his young son and unborn child — that the community itself can end violence.

Mended Families Incorporated (MFI) set a goal of giving out between 5,000 to10,000 diapers and informing the public of various resources available to them and their children.The event kicked off at 10am, and before the doors even opened there was a line of people patiently waiting.

City Council candidate Marilyn Langlois, a board member of MFI since its inception, observed the interactions among mothers, seeing their appreciation for receiving concrete assistance, information and resources.

Nadiri Jumoke, a substance abuse specialist, said she was there because that’s where mothers would be, and some may benefit from the services she offers.

Jamie White, the secretary of MFI, has a personal investment in the work that her organization does. Like so many, she has lost family to the streets of Richmond, and in her opinion providing basic needs — like diapers, formula, wipes and clothing — is crucial in preventing further loss of life. If one is without these goods, she said, their lives can be negatively impacted. White added that she is hoping the event and the efforts of the organization will create a chain reaction of people sharing resources and supporting each other.

Candy Anderson, from the organization Brighter Beginnings, said scheduling the diaper giveaway for the end of the month was a wonderful idea, because many families must decide between buying food or buying diapers.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was present at the event to show her continued support to MFI. As an honorary board member, she said the organizational goals are in line with those of the City of Richmond: to promote and create a healthy Richmond where our families can prosper and rise above violence, poverty and injustice. The Mayor stressed the importance of community-building, which she defined as human beings relating to one another in a fair and equal way, remembering that we are more alike than different.

“Community” is the key word used in many conversations taking place in and around the Coronado YMCA. There appeared to be a nostalgic feeling of joy among residents on that warm sunny Saturday, and MFI was the main purpose for the gathering on that day. Now, however, there is a call for more. Who will answer the call? I humbly guarantee that MFI and Richmond’s Mayor will. How about you?

In Richmond, A Love of Soccer But Nowhere to Play

News Report, Monica Quesada

RICHMOND, Calif. — Angel Leon has learned how to express his feelings through soccer. If he’s angry, for example, he’ll use that emotion in the game, “not to hurt, but to be more aggressive towards the ball, more energetic.”

But Angel, 13, a player for the Richmond Sol Cobras, doesn’t get angry often. In fact, he said anger is exactly the opposite of what he usually feels when he’s out on the soccer field, running around with his friends.

“It is a fast playing game,” said his teammate, Kanai Salvador-Anderson, also 13. “You forget about your troubles and let out all of your emotions.”

But there is one thing that both Angel and Kanai don’t like about soccer: They don’t get to practice it enough, and it’s not for a lack of desire. Limited by a finite number of available soccer fields in the city, the Cobras only meet for practice twice per week.

Richmond Sol was founded in 2003 and is one of only two officially organized soccer clubs that exist in the city. The second is called Richmond United Soccer Club, founded in 1995. Between the two clubs, around 800 Richmond children participate year-round in soccer clinics and competitions, outings and mentoring activities.

The people who make up the staffs of the two soccer clubs are all unpaid volunteers – they do what they do for the love of the game, and out of a sense of community service. And despite the number of youth currently being served, soccer club volunteers agree that it’s only the tip of the iceberg. They could do much more, they say, if it weren’t for one big problem: There are simply not enough places in Richmond to practice soccer.

According to the 2010 Richmond Parks Master Plan, 16 different locations in the city are regularly used to play soccer, but only two of them are “purpose-built soccer fields” – places intended to be used for the sport. Those are located at Country Club Vista Park and at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. The other 14 places where soccer players practice are either multi use fields or green areas in different parks around the city.

“Currently, overuse of the existing fields is resulting in their deterioration, in some cases to the point where they are virtually un-playable,” reads the plan.

The study, published last December, also says that the city has a deficit of 19 soccer fields, based on a desired standard ratio of one field per 3000 inhabitants. In a city where the Latino population, with a strong soccer tradition, is now 40 percent and growing, the lack of fields is more perceptible.

“Back in the 80’s, softball and baseball were the popular sports here,” said Diego Garcia, vice-chair of the Recreation & Parks Commission and president of Richmond Sol. “The late 90’s was when soccer started to become popular, when the World Cup came to the U.S. Now, it is not the most popular sport, but it is a fast growing sport.”

Garcia estimates that there are between 4,000 and 5,000 children and adults in Richmond that are playing soccer. In addition to the two major soccer clubs, which are affiliated with national and regional soccer leagues, there is an informal club called Richmond Eclipse, and various after school programs that boast soccer teams.

The two organized soccer clubs, along with every other sport club in the city, face another difficulty. The cost of renting one of the city-run fields or one of the fields that belong to the school district, like the ones at Richmond or Kennedy high schools, may cost as much as $500 a day.

“When you are a smaller group and you are starting out without ties to the city, it makes it hard,” said Gelberg Rodriguez, president of the Richmond United Soccer Club. “Sometimes, teams have to pay $50 to $75 to play for a couple of hours.”

The fee that each participant pays to be part of the club covers that cost, and also the cost of uniforms, trophies and other accessories. But the fee could soon go up to $150 a year.

Save the Clubs

Juan Reardon has a 10 year-old daughter that plays with the Richmond United Soccer Club. He said he got tired of watching his daughter “avoiding the holes in the ground” as she plays, so he decided to act.

“There are close to 3,000 children who do one type of organized sport in Richmond, but that is the minority of the children in Richmond,” said Reardon. “The others do not participate because there is not enough capacity to welcome them and to facilitate their participation. They need help with tuition, transportation, and the basic issue is there is no field capacity.”

Reardon, Garcia and Rodriguez joined forces with six representatives from other baseball, football and track clubs in Richmond, and are now the Richmond Safe Athletic Fields for Education (SAFE) Coalition. Together, with Richmond Progressive Alliance as a facilitator, they are asking the city for more, and stronger, support.

“We are fulfilling a shared obligation that we have as parents and community members,” Reardon remembered saying during a meeting with the City Council and school district representatives back in February 2011. “(But) we need free or lower cost access to the fields, for all the sports.”

Negotiations between the clubs and the City Manager have been ongoing since then, and even though it looked like they were close to an agreement, it has been hard to find a way to satisfy both parties.

“We say we want to use the fields for free,” Reardon said. “They say, ‘I understand that you need support, but we believe that if people don’t pay they don’t appreciate (the fields).’”

But Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said appreciation is not the main reason for imposing a fee on the clubs, which are using the facilities exclusively — that means that during their practices and games, the rest of the public cannot use the field. Hence the fee.

The latest round of negotiations between the SAFE coalition and the City Manager’s office established that the clubs would pay 8 dollars per year, per player if the player is a Richmond resident, and 14 dollars per year per player if the player comes from outside Richmond.

Members of SAFE agreed to pay the fee, but asked that the money be saved by the city and then redirected to each club, to be used to finance their various club-related costs.

Lindsay, on the other hand, said the fees should be used to “lease field space from the School District, make improvements to city-owned facilities, and fund special projects and events for the collective benefit of participating SAFE members.”

No final resolution has yet been agreed to, but both parties are working to reach an understanding.

The debate may also be influenced by the outcome of city elections in November, when residents will decide whether or not sugary beverages like sodas should taxed by the city. If the proposal is approved, Richmond will have some extra money that could be earmarked to fight obesity. And it’s not a stretch to think that part of that money could be used to build sports fields.

Even if that money materializes, however, the task of building new city-funded sports fields in Richmond looks daunting.

“It is gonna take us maybe 10 years to close the gap on the lack of fields,” said Reardon. “But [the soda tax] will be a good steady income for the city to address this problem.”

More Than Soccer

For Angel and Kanai, being club members brings a lot more than just learning soccer. They also learn discipline, how to communicate with their teammates and how to be leaders, by making decisions as a team and putting the team’s interest before their own.

“I try to be an example for my brother,” said Angel, “so he doesn’t end up in places where he should not be.”

“Sports for me are a metaphor for life,” said Rodriguez. “If you work hard in soccer, you can be successful. If you wanna do well in life you have to work hard. I think a lot of coaches use that metaphor.”

Rodriguez is an engineer who graduated from UC Berkeley, and he said that soccer and the Richmond United Soccer Club are tools that he and the other volunteers use to motivate Richmond kids to go to college.

“Getting our kids to go to college is a big challenge, because our kids have a low high school graduation rate,” said Rodriguez. “How do we make our kids understand that they have to go to college to have a better life? In the Latino community, in general, that is a problem.”

Richmond Swims Gets Youth in the Water

News Feature, Monica Quesada

Caleb Monteiro, 6, was the only one in the lane at the pool, kicking away on his back. He swam for 30 minutes and today he did a great job.

“She said I’m on fire,” said Caleb with a big smile repeating his coach’s comment.

Every week, four times a week, Caleb and his two older brothers come to the Richmond Municipal Natatorium, or Richmond Plunge, to train as part of the Richmond Swims Sailfish team.

Richmond Swims is a Non Governmental Organization founded in September 2010 after the city run public pool was reopened. Richmond Swims has two on going programs, Richmond Sailfish which hosts children from five to 18, and Richmond Plunge Masters, a swimming program for adults 18 and up.

According to John Schonder, head coach and general manager of the program, since its beginning Richmond Swims has taught around 130 swimmers. Today the program has 55 permanent swimmers, starting at the age of 5.

The goal of the organization is to provide the city with a year-round program that can teach residents of Richmond how to swim, and then give them the opportunity of training to participate in swimming competitions locally and nationally.

“Richmond is a very diverse community, with swimmers representing all different nationalities and ethnicities,” said Schonder. “We are teaching a necessary life skill that can avoid an accident.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 to 14 years,” a statistic that is more significant for minority children, like African American and Latinos. For example, the drowning rate of African American children between the ages of 5 and 9 is double that of white or latino children, and African American teenagers between the ages of 10 and 14 have a three times higher drowning rate than white teenagers.

Sailfish team’s demography is 50 percent Latino, 24 percent white, 9 percent Asian and 8 percent African American. Schonder said he hopes to have more African American swimmers and also more teenagers age 15 to 18.

But the programs wants to go further than swimming. Schonder explained that the training program also asks participants to set goals not only for competitive swimming, but also for their school performance and encourages them to be active and committed members of their families and their community.

“Swimming gives them more drive,” said Tana Monteiro, mother of the three Monteiro swimmers. “They have [swimming] goals, like to learn the strokes, and they learn that if you have a goal, you work at it and you can do it. It helps them with other things in life.”

Caleb was the reason Monteiro and her mother, April Kutger, reached out to the Richmond Swims team a year and a half ago. They both love swimming and they wanted their boys to be comfortable in the water.  At first, Caleb was the one that looked more comfortable.

But after the evaluation, Caleb wasn’t ready for the team, and he had to take private swimming lessons to level out and become a Guppy, the name for the initial swimming level in the team.

“It took a lot of practice to get my swimming right,” Caleb said.

Now the three brothers are part of the team under a scholarship and Caleb will participate in his first meet at the end of July.

“It’s not all about winning, it’s about playing the game and having fun,” Caleb said grabbing his head. “And it’s going to be a lot of work.”

 

BECOMING A SAILFISH

Anybody from Richmond between the ages of 5 and 18 can be part of the Richmond Sailfish Swimming Team.

All new swimmers have to go through an evaluation to determine their ability as swimmers and they can enjoy a two week free trial of the program to see if they like team.

“Most of our team members had no experience when they started,” said Schonder. “On our first week we had 45 swimmer, and only four had had swimming lessons before or some swimming abilities.”

The minimum swimming requirements that a new member of the team must have are as fun as floating like an airplane or jellyfish, jumping into the deep end of a pool and comfortably swimming over to the side, or blowing bubbles in the water.

Although a monthly fee applies to all participants, scholarships are available for kids that are committed to the program but can’t afford the fee.

The fees varies from $35 to $75 a month, depending on the group level of the swimmer, and the scholarship goes from full to 25 percent coverage of the fee.

Despite the fact that most of the program’s costs are covered by different grants and donations, Schonder said that the fees are necessary to cover pool rental time, equipment, instructors, payroll taxes, liability insurance and USA Swimming annual fee.

WHAT ABOUT THE ADULT SWIMMERS?

Richmond residents 18 and over can also learn how to swim and practice the sport as part of the Richmond Plunge Masters program.

New members will have one free lesson where the coaches will evaluate their swimming abilities and determine the type of training they need. People must be comfortable in deep water but do not need to know how to swim.

The Masters program also has a fee. People that are hoping to swim more than twice a week are suggested to get the $50 monthly pass. Those that will swim twice a week or less can get a 10 swimming lessons card for $55 which has a six month limit.

Swimming workouts are Monday to Saturday at different schedules.

For more information contact John Schonder at (510)504-0330 or check Richmond Swims website at www.richmondswims.org

 

Youth Talent Show

Youth Talent Show

(PART OF THE IRON TRIANGLE COMMUNITY PICNIC)

 Friday, June 29, 2012

Nevin Park and Community Center       598 Nevin Ave. – Richmond

Categories: Dancers, Musicians, Singers and Rappers, Spoken Word

Age groups: High School, Middle School and Elementary School ; Other

Try-outs will be held at the Nevin Friday afternoon, June 29 from 3pm to 7pm

To register for the try-outs call Otheree Christian, 860-3389

New Approach to Ending Gun Violence Wins Praise & Sparks Controversy

Last month, D’vondre Woodwards, a 23-year-old man from North Richmond, decided to go eat a hot dog at Casper’s in Central Richmond. As he sat outside the restaurant eating his chili dog, another young man approached him and asked what he was doing “just sitting right there.”

“This is our city,” Woodwards remembered saying. “I’m not gonna hurry up.”

Woodwards knew he was taking a risk by breaking one of Richmond’s unwritten laws: Being a young black man from North Richmond, Woodwards is not supposed to hang out in Central Richmond. It’s an informal code of the street that is sometimes enforced with bullets.

During the past six years in Richmond, nearly 1,000 shootings have resulted in the deaths of 208 young men — an average of 35 per year. By comparison, the average number of homicides by firearm in cities comparable in size to Richmond (about 100,000 people) nationwide is just four, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Richmond residents old enough to remember say the city has been drowning in street violence for decades. The 80’s and 90’s, they say, were some of the worst years, due to the emergence of crack cocaine and the hierarchical crime organizations that sprung up in Richmond neighborhoods as a result of the growing street economy. But some here claim that the turf wars between North and Central Richmond were heightened due to a an incident in 2000 – a car accident involving people from the two different neighborhoods, in which the party responsible for the damages refused to pay. That lone incident supposedly triggered a series of shootings that led to a cycle of retaliatory violence against people based on nothing other than where they were born, a cycle of violence that continues to this day.

Whether truth or urban legend, the fact remains that payback via gun violence in certain parts of Richmond has long been the norm, not the exception.

“Where [the violence began] got lost in all the deaths,” said Jonathan Bell, a 24-year-old from Central Richmond. “Where it comes from don’t matter no more.”

Both Bell and Woodwards grew up in this violent reality, learning that they are supposed to hate each other just because of the neighborhoods they come from.

“You’re from the ‘hood, so you’re guilty by association,” explained Woodwards.

 Trying a Different Way

“We know that almost all [the violence] involves guns and youth and young adults, and it is concentrated in (certain) neighborhoods, so you know exactly where the problem is,” said Frank Zimring, a law professor at UC Berkeley and author of the book American Youth Violence.

But, said Zimring, understanding and fixing the gun violence problem are two separate matters. Law enforcement was the central strategy of the city to combat drug-related violence in the 80s and 90s – many leaders of the neighborhood gangs and “sets” were behind bars by the late 90s – but that didn’t stop crime rates and homicides in the city from spiking in the mid 2000s. It was at that time that the City of Richmond decided to look outside of traditional law enforcement for solutions. As a result, in October 2007, the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) was born.

“ONS is an organization that is the product of bold leadership – that’s our city manager, that’s our counsel, our mayor – that were responsible for the creation of an entity that says there’s got to be another approach to having an impact on reducing gun violence in our city,” said DeVone Boggan, director of ONS.

The core purpose of ONS is to “eliminate the gun violence” in Richmond, and the program sets itself apart from a strict law enforcement approach by emphasizing prevention and exclusively targeting a small group of young men from Richmond identified as being the most likely to either kill someone or be killed themselves.

“[These young men] use gun violence to resolve conflict, but also to obtain something that they can’t get from mainstream society,” Boggan said. “The idea that I’m somebody; the idea that I’m significant and I’m a contributor to society; the idea that I’m important.”

From the beginning, ONS concentrated its efforts on street outreach focused on the neighborhoods where most of the killings where happening, principally the central parts of the city. Then, in 2009, Boggan attended a meeting with higher-ups from the police department that would result in him narrowing the focus of ONS even further. At the meeting, Boggan was told that just fifteen young men were responsible for a staggering 70 percent of all the shootings and killings in the city that year.

“Fifteen people are creating this narrative for our city?” Boggan remembered asking. From that point forward, Boggan decided that ONS would work directly with only those young men identified as being the most at risk for violence – as either victims or perpetrators.

By June 2010, 21 young men from different neighborhoods in Richmond had joined the new ONS program called Operation Peacemaker Fellows (OPF), each one committing to change their lives and undo the dynamics they’d helped to foster in their neighborhood. In exchange, ONS promised them support and exposure to job and educational opportunities.

“We are going to take you by the hand, and we are going to walk you through it as if you were our child,” Boggan remembered telling them. “These are your uncles and aunties, and I’m papa.”

Today, OPF is in its second year and the group of fellows has grown to 33. Of the 43 young African-American men from Richmond who ONS has worked with since its inception, “42 are alive today, 39 have no gun-related hospitalizations or injuries, 36 have no new gun charges, and 33 have no new gun-violence related arrests,” according to a 2011 ONS annual report.

Controversy

Despite what looks like a success story, ONS is not without its critics in Richmond. One often heard complaint is the amount of city money spent on the project, and specifically the fact that some of it is given directly to the fellows themselves, or used to pay for their trips around California and even to locations outside of the U.S. Boggan answers the critics by pointing out that the program gives a modest stipend of up to $6,000 for each fellow per year, and if the fellow fails to do his part, they don’t get the stipend. And if they get in trouble with the police, Boggan said, there is little that ONS can do.

Furthermore, he said, the stipends are only given during the second phase of the program, after fellows have completed what ONS calls a “life map.”

The life map is a list of basic needs that the fellow wants to resolve in their near future, like getting a driver’s license, gaining trust of a parole officer, or opening a bank account. The life map must also describe plans for a different future, and outline steps the fellow needs to take to get there, like finishing high school, getting a GED or learning a trade that will lead to a job. But for the immediate short term, ONS subsidizes jobs for the fellows, connecting them with participating organizations and covering the cost of their salary for several months.

“This program mixes incentives and threats,” said Zimring, who said that it could look to outsiders like ONS is rewarding people for bad behavior. People, he said, might think that ONS is “giving the bad kids the cookies.”

“My own position is, try things,” Zimring added. “But let’s be rigorous in taking the data.”

A second criticism that has been leveled against ONS is that they lack a way to adequately document or measure the success of people participating in their program. Councilman Courtland “Corky” Boozé has been outspoken about not having access to data or documents that show exactly how and with whom ONS has worked.

“How many people are 2.8 million dollars taking care of?” Boozé asked. “That is a lot of money. They could never tell me, and to this day I still don’t know. How many people are they serving and where are they today.”

Bill Lindsay, City Manager, said that except for information required by law to be kept confidential, all documentation related to ONS is public record and accessible to anyone.

“If there is information that hasn’t been provided [to Councilman Boozé] he should get it because he has the right to access [it],” Lindsay said.

Lindsay also added that ONS is in the process of bringing in an independent consultant to evaluate the work that has been done so far and to help set better measurement criteria and documentation procedures for all of their programs.

“I don’t think [the documentation] is entirely missing, but it could be better,” Lindsay said. “ONS is relatively new and it is a good time to evaluate what is going on and to set new measurement criteria.”

Uncles and Aunties: Neighborhood Change Agents (NCA)

Sam Vaughn knows very well the negative dynamics that exist in Richmond. Vaughn was himself arrested for attempted murder, for which he was convicted and spent 10 years behind bars.

“One of the hardest things to admit is that you lived your whole life based on a lie,” Vaughn said. “[They tell you] that you are really not going to accomplish much… [that] if you are black growing up in this community the only way you are going to get out is if you are a rapper or you are an athlete, that’s the only way you can succeed.”

When Vaughn got out of prison, he started looking for a different kind of life, and his search eventually led him to a job at ONS as a Neighborhood Change Agent (NCA).

Vaughn is one of seven full time employees at ONS that work as either NCA’s or street outreach workers. Six out of the seven are originally from Richmond, and five have had problems with law enforcement.

“To be honest, we all were helpers in the [violence happening in Richmond] now; we helped that happen,” Vaughn said. “But we all have a desire for Richmond [to be better] because our families still live here. This is our home and if we care about it, we can do something.”

The responsibility of an NCA is to find the people in Richmond that are perpetrators of gun violence or those that have been affected by it. Once they’re identified, the NCAs work to develop a relationship of trust with them that could result in an ONS fellowship.

“We are trying to create a space where ONS is a safety stop,” said Kevin Muccular, a senior NCA staff person. “There are plenty of young people out there that understand that enough is enough.”

Muccular is one of the NCA’s that grew up in Richmond but never got involved in gun violence or got in trouble with law enforcement. His mother sent him to a high school outside of Richmond, and he would spend the entire week away from the city. “Back then you had issues with people, and not with areas,” he said.

Muccular and Vaughn believe that the hardest part of their jobs is not the rejection, but losing one of their clients or one of the fellows to the streets. Muccular recently lost a client in North Richmond in an April 17 shooting. “I felt helpless in that situation,” he said.

When the NCA’s are doing outreach on the streets of Richmond, they often encounter young men who say they “aren’t ready” to make a drastic change in their life.

“Just because you are ready to change doesn’t mean that the people around you are ready to change,” Muccular said.

“I’m still stuck in this mud puddle, I’m still getting splashed with everybody else’s stuff,” said Vaughn, explaining what a young man on the street might be thinking. “I’m working hard but it doesn’t mean that the person on the other side cares … I can still lose my life. So why not be ready for that, instead of thinking that I can maneuver myself out of here?”

“So much has to change for them to feel that this is safe,” Vaughn added.

Kim MacDonald is the only NCA that didn’t grow up in Richmond. She works mostly with the Prison Reentry Planning Initiative at San Quentin State Prison. MacDonald works with prisoners from Richmond soon to be released, helping to prepare them for their reentry into the community by teaching them violence prevention and life skills.

“If we don’t educate and help them while they’re incarcerated, who will?” MacDonald said. “These are amazing people that have made mistakes.”

According to Boggan, all of the programs that he oversees are making a difference in Richmond — but they are not enough.

“If you gave me the resources to do what we do for 150 [fellows], violent crime in this city would never be what it is today. I stake my career on it,” Boggan said. “I’m not going to say we can eliminate gun violence, but the nature of violent crime in this city would go through significant change.”

Both Muccular and Vaughn agree with Boggan.

“We got our fishing pole and we are picking one [young man] at the time,” Vaughn said. “We need a net.”

Once a Fellow, Always a Fellow

“[Muccular] put me in a lot of positions where I could use my potential,” Bell said. “They don’t give it to you but they put you in a place where you can earn it or you gotta use what’s inside you to be successful.”

Bell has been part of the fellowship program for only six months, but he’s accomplished a lot.

“Jonathan hit he ground running,” said Muccular, who is Bell’s mentor.

“I was on probation, I had no license, I ain’t worked in like three or four years, I was in a bad spot,” Bell remembered. “I had given up on doing stuff the right way. You get better at doing the wrong stuff the right way.”

Bell, who credits the program for getting his life back, is finally off probation. He worked for the city on account of an ONS-subsidized job, and now is looking for another job and waiting for the fall semester to start attending College of Alameda.

“The program showed me that there is still a way, that I can be a regular person,” said Bell, who now wants only to be a better father to his 6-year-old boy. ONS encourages successful fellows like Bell to become role models for their peers and for the community, even people that have rejected the program in the past.

Woodwards is a senior fellow in the program. He started with the first group and has been part of the program for 18 months. Since then, he’s referred a number of people from North Richmond to the program.

“I tell them, if you are serious about doing this, here’s [Kevin Muccular’s] number,” Woodwards said.

Unlike Bell, Woodwards grow up almost by himself, with an absent father and a mother that have problems with substance abuse. “I was selling drugs to feed myself,” he said.

Now he is attending Contra Costa College to get his prerequisites for a degree in radiology. “They don’t let you slack off or anything,” Woodwards said about the fellowship program. “That’s a good thing because we don’t have that. Must of us, we don’t have family members that we respect to let them do that, but we respect [Muccular].”

Woodwards has a 1-year-old son and he says he hopes to be as good a father as Bell, a “cat” he knew from school several years ago, and who he once saw as an enemy.

Today, Woodwards is seeing his life differently.

“I never had the motivation to go to school, but now [I’m] the first one there,” Woodward said with a big smile. “It feels good when you get an A on a test. I never had that.”

DIAPER DRIVE IS LOVE IN ACTION

News Feature, Taisa Grant

What are the fundamental needs of a single mother of two, pregnant with her third child? What if she is suddenly kicked out of the room she was renting, leaving her with the only option of living in a shelter, separated from her children and considering abortion? How can she keep her family together when funds are far off and governmental aid is under attack and often carries an image of shame for the recipients of such programs?

Tamekka Cockerham, a participant at Mended Families, Incorporated (MFI), says the essence of love is what’s needed when times get hard and she finds herself in down and out circumstances. And that’s exactly what she found at MFI.

MFI focuses on the reunification of families separated due to addictions, poverty, domestic violence, mental disease, incarceration, and childhood abuses. Since its inception in 2000 (and official non-profit recognition in September 2009), Cockerham shares that MFI has positively impacted her and her baby girl by providing support and a good foundation for building her life. At MFI she receives guidance, encouragement, counseling, and diapers.

Raquel Smith, Executive Director of MFI, says the idea behind the organization is, “Love in action. Clothing our people with love by meeting basic needs, food and shelter. Then individuals can build toward independence and awaking. Once fed we can address medical, spiritual needs and encourage vocational training so they are able to produce. That’s why when I think of Richmond I call it Richland, rich in hope, rich in love, rich in culture.”

Through their year-round diaper give out and Annual Resource Fair, Cockerham receives educational and nutritional health information that includes better eating habits for herself and her children. “What you don’t have knowledge of you can’t grow from,” she shares. “I was informed of stuff I didn’t know, life essentials.”

Want to help?
MFI is accepting donations to achieve their goal of 10,000 newborn to toddler diapers for 500 families by June 30th. Diaper Donation locations include: Hilltop YMCA 4300 Lakeside Drive Richmond CA 94806 (Anytime) and Rock Harbor Church 2652 Church lane San Pablo CA, 94806 (Wednesdays 7-9pm). Please visit http://mendedfamiliesinc.org/ for more information.

Looking for Resources?
MFI’s 2nd Annual Resource Fair will be held June 30th 2012, 10am-2:00pm at the Coronado YMCA, 263 South 20th Street Richmond California. Supporting organizations in attendance include Kaiser, YMCA, Safe Kids Now, Saffron Strand, and Healing Circles of Hope.

Richmond’s Latina Center Developing Next Generation of Leaders

News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Tired of all the fights, drama, violence, bullying and hate, members of the Young Latina Future Leaders program at the Latina Center hosted the first “Forgive and Forget” dance party to encourage other young people to live a drama free life. 8th graders Alondra Reyes and Vanessa Jimenez came up with the creative idea of having a dance with this theme, and they invited speakers to talk to the students about making healthy choices.

About 80 students showed up for he dance party, which was held in late May at LaVonya DeJean Middle School.

“When you begin to start drama, you get conflicts and consequences,” says Reyes. “Drama develops into bullying.”

The dance is only one of the many projects of the Latina Center. Founded in 2001 by Miriam Wong, the Latina Center began its work in Richmond by empowering immigrant Latina women, many of who were victims of domestic violence.

The community advocacy projects of the Young Latina Future Leaders (YLFL) program cover a wide range, says Yenny Velazquez, YLFL’s program coordinator. Current projects address drug prevention, dating violence and citizenship/immigration. Velazquez says the efforts form part of a larger movement to build a healthier Richmond. At the Latina Center, this means empowering women to be leaders in the community.  It is a process that can alter lives.

Over 1,200 women have graduated as leaders and have conducted over 457 community advocacy projects. YLFL focuses on developing leaders with an emphasis on teenage girls, like Reyes. YLFL currently has 45 members and the program is held at LaVonya DeJean and Helms Middle School. Members will continue their community advocacy projects over the summer.

Velazquez took a leap of faith when she attended a peer support group at the Latina Center four years ago. “I was going through post-partum depression and it was a really difficult time in my life,” says Velazquez. “ I started going to their support group and the director, Miriam Wong, said to me, you know what, you can do this,” Velazquez remembers.” Velazquez participated in the support group for a full year and then took part in the Women’s Leadership program. She graduated from the program and remained at the Latina Center to develop the Young Latina Future Leaders program. In the program, Velazquez coordinates mentors for the student members and runs support groups. The group is now coming into its own.

In March, YLFL members addressed senators and assembly members in Sacramento in support of AB 1880, a teen dating violence prevention measure. On April 28, the Latina Center hosted its second health fair, where YLFL members spoke with parents about improving communication with their children.

Norma Diaz, an adult participant at the Latina Center, has witnessed the growth of YLFL and is proud of their involvement with the community. During the “Forgive and Forget Dance,” Diaz was selling food to the students. “Perhaps I don’t like to dance much, but this is important for them, so they learn how to cooperate. It’s important for the youth to have friendships and learn to be united,” says Diaz.

Although the school year has ended, the Young Latina Future Leader members will continue to meet during the summer and plan advocacy projects. Their graduation from the YLFL program is scheduled for July 22nd.

The Latina Center is located at 3919 Roosevelt Avenue. For general questions about the Latina Center’s services or the Young Latina Future Leaders program, call (510) 233-8595.