News Column

Cleanup hopes to shape brighter futures

June 29, 2014

By Nick Jurney, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.

June 29--For the eighth year in a row, the Gang Alternative Program of Pueblo hosted an annual cleanup event at the Big Hill Open Space, bringing together at-risk youth volunteers to gain awareness of gang activity and the negative effects of littering.

Event coordinator Frank Arteaga, who helped start GAPP in 1993, said the cleanup not only gives kids something to do, but it helps clean an area of the city that doesn't often get the attention it deserves.

"The hardest part (of the program) is making sure kids stay stable. We like to give them educational advancement and most of all, employment. This is work they get paid for with cash to help their families," Arteaga said. "It makes them realize that sooner or later, they'll be entering the job market. But, for every kid we work with, there's 500 more that need it."

Two teams of youth volunteers worked with Arteaga Saturday, along with Maria Arteaga, to pick up trash, bottles, paper bags and "hoards and hoards" of broken glass, as Arteaga described it.

A former sociologist from the local university, Arteaga said the broken glass symbolizes something known as "broken window syndrome."

"Broken window syndrome is a theory that believes when people go into a neighborhood and see a lot of broken windows, they think they can do anything in that area," Arteaga said. "That's what we're trying to avoid here."

Adrianna Ortiz, 11, brought her friend Nyssa Duran, 11, to work with her Saturday as an alternative to sitting at home playing games, she said.

"We came to help pick up trash because it's something to entertain ourselves with instead of sitting at home," Ortiz said.

Ortiz, Duran and 10-year-old Davi'ana Ramos worked with Maria Arteaga to remove trash from the area, but the three also said working with GAPP has helped change their attitudes about disposing of trash in the future and increased their awareness of the dangers of gangs.

"The kids get to see the effects of trash and it will probably make them think twice before throwing a bottle over the fence," Arteaga said. "It's also a chance to bring kids together from different areas -- East Side, South Side, wherever -- and show them that they can all get along."

The second team of volunteers, made up of siblings Naveh, 10, and Najee, 12, Nious and Khalil Eaton, both 14, explored a part of the hill where there were gang markings, more broken glass and a strip of barbed wire.

"It's a social phenomena that a symbol, like these gang signs, can create so much destruction," Arteaga said. "They can illicit a response. This area can be a nice recluse for kids, though, to talk about their issues. They do better when they talk amongst themselves."

Khalil, who has worked with GAPP for four years, said the cleanup gives the kids something to do and gives them incentive, and they also get to participate in fun activities like ice skating, bowling and swimming after the work is done.

"It's something to keep us busy, but it also keeps us out of trouble," Khalil said. "We are at risk, you know, so we do this sort of thing to clean but also to have fun."

Arteaga also noted GAPP's ongoing weapon program, in which people can give Arteaga guns, no questions asked, and they will be turned over to the police.

"We've already have three weapons turned in this year, which brings our total to 102 overall," Arteaga said. "Kids are often curious about guns, and for the most part I've been lucky enough to have kids tell me where a gun is. It's an interactive process to show them the dangers of gang violence."


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Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)

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