Community Group Says City’s Youth Violence Prevention Program Isn’t Working

Staff and participants in the city's Youth Violence Prevention and Intervention Program disagree.

A local community group says a city-run youth violence prevention program is failing to make a difference. City staff, however, disagree.

“We understand violence is a reality … but we’re concerned the program is not working as well as it can be,” said Todd Benson, an organizer with Congregations Organizing for Renewal.

More than 120 residents, along with Mayor Mark Green and a representative from the Alameda County Probation Department, attended a community action night hosted by COR at Wednesday evening. COR members criticized the city’s , a program established in 2008 to quell youth-related crimes that's funded by tax dollars.

COR and Karen Yifru, whose son was slain in 2007, were integral in helping to launch the program, which calls for a number of services to be provided to at-risk youths, including street outreach, call-in meetings, crisis response, job training and job placement.

But the group said program staff members are failing to engage the community and asked Mayor Green to make changes to the program’s current advisory board to increase oversight and engagement.

The current advisory board, which meets once monthly, consists of representatives from COR, the program’s staff, the police department, school board, Human Relations Commission, Filipino Advocates for Justice and other organizations.

The new group would include the same members, with additional community support, and would assume a more active role. At the meeting, John Mein of the Alameda County Probation Department agreed to participate in the new committee.

Throughout Wednesday night’s event, COR members spoke on their experiences with violence and stressed the need for stronger support from the city.

Yesenia Molinar said her family was scarred when her brother was wounded and his best friend killed in November 2007.

“No one deserves to have their life taken away,” she said. “The youth need to know there’s a way to prevent these scenarios.”

“Our children continue to remain at-risk,” said Mary Schlarb, a longtime Decoto resident and COR organizer. “We can not let violence define who we are.”

By the numbers

During a brief presentation, Schlarb said that after the program was initially introduced, the city’s homicide rate dropped from five in 2007 to three in 2008. COR leaders said crime has since increased.

However, according to the Union City Police Department’s 2010 statistical summary, the latest data available, crime decreased all around in 2010.

According to the data, there were three homicides each in 2008, 2009 and 2010, with the number of rapes, robberies and burglaries lower in 2010 than in previous recent years (view the document by clicking on the thumbnail to the right).

So far in 2011, there have been three homicides, all of which occurred within a month. 

City staff, participants say program has proven success record

Though Youth Violence Prevention and Intervention Program staff did not speak publicly at the event, many staff members attended the meeting and told Patch they disagreed that the program is ineffective.

“Our perspective is that it is working,” said Jill Stavosky, manager of the Leisure Services department, which oversees the youth violence program. “We have youths working and youths receiving vocational training. We have a youth outreach team and the boxing program. We’re preventing bad things from happening in their lives.”

According to city staff, the program has served more than 80 youths and their families by offering a range of services, from counseling and education to job training and family support.

Many program clients learn work skills at Cypress-Mandela Training Center, a pre-apprenticeship school in Oakland that offers programs in fields such as carpentry, construction, electrical fundamentals and solar installation. They then receive job placement assistance.

“Our goal is to continue to make it work,” Stavosky said.

About 20 youths who have been involved in the youth violence program also attended the Wednesday night gathering but left feeling snubbed as only COR members were allowed to speak.

“How are you going to have a community meeting and not let the community speak?” said Robert Rodriguez, 23, a client of Youth and Family Services, whose staff also runs the youth violence program. He said the program has provided him with opportunities and positive guidance.

“They’re talking about violence in the community, but they’re badgering us and criticizing what we do,” he said.

Alex Marabilla, 21, echoed Rodriguez’s sentiments and added that he has been enrolled in the program for three years. Through the program, he was able to obtain a GED and enlist in the military.

Success won’t come overnight

Despite the rift at the meeting, Mayor Green said such meetings are necessary for the program’s success.

Green has been an ardent supporter of the program and campaigned in 2008 for Measure UU, a parcel tax to generate $4 million for public safety programming over an eight-year period. The majority of the money is dedicated to maintaining police and fire staffing, with $500,000 set aside for the youth violence program.

Program funds will dry up by 2016, at which point residents will be asked to vote to extend Measure UU, thereby extending the youth violence prevention campaign.

“[The youth] need to know we’ll be there for them in the long haul,” Schlarb said about continuing the program.

But the city can only do so much, Green said.

“It’s really a collaboration starting from the individual level and going up,” he said. “We need all elements to come together.”

The — a proposed collaboration between the New Haven Unified School District and local community groups to provide disadvantaged students with a variety of services and support — and  — are moves in the right direction, Green said.

COR representatives will speak at the Nov. 8 City Council meeting to ask that the new working group for the Youth Violence Prevention and Intervention Program be considered. They urged supporters to attend the meeting.

Zinn October 27, 2011 at 01:19 PM
I feel for those who believe this program is not working but the bottom line is dysfunctional parenting. Parenting does not end at child birth...
Carly October 27, 2011 at 02:54 PM
Zinn, you are right. No school or community program can over ride what these kids experience in their personal lives.
LMO737 October 27, 2011 at 03:33 PM
We know where $500,000 of Measure UU tax dollars are going. Union City residents need to be told where the balance of these tax dollars are going. Something more detailed than "Public Safety." Is it for new firestations, new police facilities, salaries, pension benefits, other benefits? Where can we get this info?
rich October 27, 2011 at 05:06 PM
Information regarding City finances, including Measure UU can be obtained from the City's Web Site at http//www.unioncity.org/asd and click on Budget or CAFR. The ues of the Measure UU did goto retain police services, that othewise would have been cut.
Timothy Swenson October 27, 2011 at 06:15 PM
I've been involved in a number of non-profits in Union City and the area and I've been looking at COR for a while. I still don't understand exactly what they do. It seems they determine where the community has needs and then advocate for someone else to fix these needs. I think they need to do more and see how they can fix these needs. Governments are not the only groups that can solve the problems that COR brings up.
Zoneil Maharaj October 27, 2011 at 09:48 PM
Thanks for the information Rich, however, the link doesn't work seem to be working for me. Is it the same budget information available in the document on this page: http://www.unioncity.org/admin/city_budget.htm ?
ordinary joe October 27, 2011 at 09:52 PM
COR is a big advocate of tax increases. They strongly supported the tax increase in the last election. I don't think they ever dis-liked any tax increase even though these tax increases necessarily solve the official reasons given for increasing them.
Ob8774 October 29, 2011 at 12:20 AM
As a member of COR I'd like to start by saying that our actions follow and agenda. Not sure how Mr. Robert Rodriguez heard about the event but it seems to me he was given wrong information. Like anyone else in Union City COR actually really want this program to work and work well. We didn't spend weeks knocking doors and asking residents to vote for the measure for no reason. I won't get into details because I don't want to confuse anyone but other youth prevention programs from other cities in the bay area are proof that in order to succeed a working group must be in place. We at COR ARE NOT criticizing the program in anyway, shape or form. Our purpose is to speak on behalf of the community and seek ways in which we can help this program become as successful as we know it can be. Timothy with all the respect we aren't looking for anyone else to fix these problems, if that were the case the organization would not exist. Ordinary Joe, tax increases is something no one likes, we supported the tax increase in measure UU because we strongly believe that no mother should ever have to mourn the death of her child due to gun violence. As a resident of Union City I feel that there is much work to be done. I work with youth, Zinn, you are completely right no program can replace parenting but it's unacceptable that those who have had parents present have to live in fear of those who haven't been taught better.
Zinn October 29, 2011 at 03:02 AM
Ob8774 wrote: >> no program can replace parenting but it's unacceptable that those who have had parents present have to live in fear of those who haven't been taught better.<< I agree. I hope your program includes a responsible parenting dynamic.
Ob8774 October 29, 2011 at 04:33 AM
Zinn-Although COR does not offer parenting classes we encourage and promote that all parents be involved with their children. We understands the importance of parenting and do our best to deliever that message. Unfortunately, there are some parents that just don't care and that's a sad reality. I grew up in a household where my parents had to know where I was and who I was with at all times. My mom didn't have a problem checking up on me and when I attempted to test the limits she'd remind me who was boss. I attribute my success to her and my father, they always told me their job was to make me an asset to society. I agree with you, many issues are connected to parenting, it's unfortunate that its not taken with the seriousness it deserves. I am not a parent and I've always been told its not my place to judge a mother or father because it's the most difficult job, but in my humble and insignificant opinion more parents need to be held responsible for the actions their kids take. Like I said, that's just my opinion.
Timothy Swenson October 29, 2011 at 03:57 PM
ob8774, You state "Timothy with all the respect we aren't looking for anyone else to fix these problems," Do you mean that you are not looking for anyone else other than COR or anyone else other than the City. If you meant COR, then why isn't COR leading this effort. I've asked COR members to tell me what actions and success COR has had on it's own (without having someone else involved) and no one has been able to come up with an answer.
Ob8774 October 29, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Tim- When it comes to issues in the community it's hard to not get other groups involved ex: city council, parishes, police, prevention programs. In a perfect world we'd go out and change any and all problem. We have to answer to city officials and community members. Believe me, at COR we'd like nothing more than to skip all the politics and get to the issues. It's all hardball, it's a give and take. Before joining COR I asked the same question you have, once I joined I realized that no one group can make change happen alone. Things are always easier said then done. We are community organizers, we have to educate ourselves before educating others. I encourage you to visit http://www.corcommunity.org/about as well as http://www.picocalifornia.org/about.
LMO737 October 29, 2011 at 06:56 PM
Hi Rich, Thanks for your help but I can't get on this website. Any other place residents can go to get this info? Would like to know where increased taxes are going other than "to retain police services." Does this mean increased wages and benefits to a group that already is a huge part of our budget. Including retirement benefits being paid out to their retirees. Are these "cigarette stings" a good use of these taxes?
LMO737 October 29, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Cont'd from "Where are your Measure UU taxes going?' If my math is correct my Measure UU tax has increased by 40% from 2004 to 2011 and continues to go up every year. Like others I voted for this tax because we were led to believe our police staff would be Slashed to bare bones, could only work 8 AM to 5 PM M-F, and would have to contribute to a 401k instead of city sponsered retirement plan. WOW! Now that I got that off my chest I can go back to enjoying my week-end.
Timothy Swenson October 30, 2011 at 01:59 AM
ob8774 - You're the second person to mention a perfect world recently and I have no idea why people bring that up. I'm not sure what you mean by COR having to answer to city officials. In a way, we all do, but how COR have to answer more than anyone else. As for the link to COR information, it says that COR "representing 25,000 low and moderate income families in Southern Alameda County", which sounds like they don't represent me or my interests. I don't think I would technically fall in that category.
Decoto Educated November 01, 2011 at 10:27 PM
@ob8774 - "Our purpose is to speak on behalf of the community," let's be clear on whose behalf COR is speaking. COR represents the collective body of COR members, no more and no less. I think the only confusion at this meeting was the assumption that a community meeting was OPEN to the Community At-Large. COR is an important part of the community and has empowered many disenfranchised citizens to demand their rightful place in the democratic process. COR’s perspective is one of many opinions on how to address a complex societal issue. As such, COR, like any other “community-based” group must consider the mutual exclusivity of intent and impact of a "Members-Only" forum. @Timothy-while COR may not represent you demographically, is a community really a community if divergent interests are not considered. I appreciate the constructive discourse...now let's practice offline in the real, not so perfect world;-)
CAROL BRIDGES November 10, 2011 at 09:00 PM
Thank You Tim, I agree the Government isnt the only group that can give, the parents and the community need to give time if money is an issue. we could use more volunteers and scholarships available for our young kids who would like to play sport but are not able to because funds are not available or parents dont want to help


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