A summit for youth brought about 200 people together today for a series of speeches and presentations about services and concerns affecting young people locally.
The event had an agenda of sessions from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Carrillo Recreation Center.
The keynote speaker, Jerry Tello is an author who has years of real life street experiences in racial justice, community peace, men and boys of color and transformational healing.
He spoke of his family challenges and how adults, either parents or educators need to have a personal analysis when trying to understand children.
“You have to be willing to feel, you gotta be willing to connect. Who are you and who are we,” he asked the group. “How do you prepare yourself, how do you heal yourself so when you see these youngsters they know that you love them?”
He spoke in detail about preventing youth violence and strengthening families.
It’s part street experience and part research.
“Most gang violence is same culture, brown on brown, black on black. Then violence turns to rage and we have seen more rage, suicide, drive by shootings, indiscriminate abuse, domestic violence,” said Tello.
Those attending were from school, political, faith based, law enforcement and educational roles. Many see the local area as able to create its own unique solutions.
“Maybe these programs might work somewhere else but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to work in our community.,” said Saul Serrano who heads the South Coast Task Force on Youth Safety. He was a coordinator of the event with the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County.
When it came to combining research data and “boots on the ground” experiences Serrano said, “what we want is success in our community rather than a program that is evidence based.”
Young people who have helped their peers were part of the program. Cristal Robles is an award winning youth leader from Santa Maria who has been part of many programs for Latina women. “Just being there for a particular person, just being there for a shoulder to cry on, (is helpful) ” she said.
Many of the speakers related experiencing involving intervention when they saw a young person changing their behavior or getting interested in gangs instead of family time or a focus on school. “Letting them know that they are wanted and needed and listening to them that is an important thing because if gives the youth more confidence that they know they are precious and valuable, ” said Robles.
Barbara Finch, Children and Adult Network Director for the Santa Barbara County Department of Social Services said the climate for concerns can be found when children are living under pressures due in part to poverty. High housing costs, low wage jobs, dual jobs for parents and food insecurity can lead to other issues such as violence, mental illness, abuse, neglect, drugs and alcohol misuse.
One common message was that there is a safety net of programs to help the youth with suicide prevention, school safety, and family programs. A special session on campus security issues will be held in October.
Collaboration is a key to the successes locally, according to Serrano who has shared his stories with his counterparts elsewhere. He says they envy the relationship that are in place locally. “They don’t have that luxury to have partnerships with cities and counties departments where we do,” he said.
Groups talking together, “build relationships so we can provide better services, not as one program but as a community of programs,” said Serrano.
Since 2009 for the most part youth violence has gone down. In the last year there has been a slight increase.
The day long event had break out sessions and a panel of young people talking about their experiences with the local programs.
Organizers say the youth need more suicide prevention programs and mental health care. They also need a resource guide.
Those attending included representatives from education, social services, health, law enforcement, religious communities, government, and non-profits.