By CSULB Senior Seminar Reporters Alison Keiser, Ben Maxson and Ruby Limon.
Some more of Long Beach’s affluent residents are planning their summer vacations. For the some of the less privileged communities, worrying about making it home safe and surviving one more day is a constant concern.
In areas like Central Long Beach – a neighborhood where the levels of poverty, unemployment and violence surpass the average of Los Angeles County itself – youth safety tends to be more vulnerable to crime in the summer.
Summer Night Lights, known locally as SNL, was formed to strategically tackle gang crime. For the third year, SNL will be launched at the parks of Admiral Kidd, Drake and Martin Luther King.
“SNL is made up of 5 different proven, effective strategies that really work [towards] building the assets around different community needs,” said Francisco Martínez, director of the summer program. “We work to prevent violence and injuries, to provide healthy food, health equity, activity environments but especially, mental-health and well-being for young men and men of color.”
The non-profit in charge of the summer program is Centro Community Hispanic Association, better known as Centro C.H.A., a human and social service agency that advocates for the well-being of low-income Hispanic families in Long Beach.
Centro C.H.A. has partnered with over 40 non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, and faith-based groups to provide a wide range of programs and services for both youth and parents throughout eight weeks in the summer.
SNL provides activities supported by local non-profits like sport tournaments, art projects, youth leadership programs, talent contests, cultural art dances and counseling services.
“In 2011 we were able to reduce crime by 26 percent,” said Martínez, “and just at Drake Park alone, the reduction of level of crime and violence was reduced by 47 percent.” Press telegram Crime Stats
“They keep us out of trouble,” said Lupita Arriaga, 17. “Some of my friends were crew members that were out painting in the streets,” Arriaga said. “SNL them the opportunity, as well as myself, to draw and paint on canvases instead. They showed us that we can show our artwork in different ways instead of going out ad disturbing the peace.”
One of the strategies of SNL is to provide free healthy meals to attract more people to the parks. Lupita learned about the summer program three years ago for the free lunch they offered at Martin Luther King Park.
“Last year we were able to serve over 36,000 meals through the California Department of Education, the Summer Food Supper Program,” Martínez said. “This is an effort to provide healthy food and therefore promote better eating habits to prevent diseases.”
Another way SNL pulls in youth is through employment. Those who are hired, receive 20-hours of training to serve other youth and community members.
Last year, SNL generated a total of seventy jobs for both youth and adults that resulted in $70,000 of payroll for Central Long Beach residents.
“Since it’s very hard to find a job these days as a youth, [Francisco] gave me a job,” Arriaga said. “I started working and basically we became really good friends.”
Even though the summer program has made significant impact in the Central Long Beach community by decreasing violence and providing jobs, being able to facilitate the activities they provide has been a real challenge.
“This year our collaborative is again challenged with funding, like last year,” said Jessica Quintana, Executive Director & President of Centro C.H.A. at a collaborative meeting for SNL. “So far, SNL is secured with $100,000 from the county, but based on previous years, we need $300,000 in funding for the program to run smooth as previous years.”
The costs for operating three parks for eight weeks is typically $125,000. This includes payroll for staff that open up the doors, maintenance services, trash, clean-up and community policing services. SNL leaders are currently talking to the city to arrange a deal.
[pullquote]“Our work aims to prevent violence before it occurs,” said Fransisco. “It is based on proven strategies that work, and holds youth and adults accountable in their local communities to create safe and healthy communities for youth and families to live and thrive. Summer Night Lights empowers communities and targets the traditional most-violent summer months.”[/pullquote]
“During the summer, we are a renter,” Said Quintana, “but we are asking the city [for support]. We are only going to be able to reduce crime in our community through prevention and intervention if it’s a true collaboration, and it’s only going to take a collaborative approach to do that.”
Last summer, approximately 27,000 people participated in the program. It is estimated that 8,100 attended at Drake Park, 9,500 at Martin Luther King, and 10,000 at Admiral Kidd Park.
“Our work aims to prevent violence before it occurs,” said Fransisco. “It is based on proven strategies that work, and holds youth and adults accountable in their local communities to create safe and healthy communities for youth and families to live and thrive. Summer Night Lights empowers communities and targets the traditional most-violent summer months.”
Participants will meet at Admiral Kidd Park, Drake Park and Martin Luther King Park. This year, the program will run July 8 through August 30, Monday through Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The location of the Summer Night Lights kick-off is yet to be determined. Those interested in volunteering or donating can contact Jessica Quintana at (562) 570-4722. For more information, like Long Beach SNL on Facebook HERE.
To watch last year’s press conference on SNL, watch the video below: