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Youths take Steps of Success toward better futures

April 09, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — Teaching or counseling are things that Biridiana Garcia, 17, of Brawley wants to do.

Biridiana isn't quite sure which one she will settle on, but she knows she wants to help others like the people who have helped her.

"They're really cool people. I feel comfortable talking to them," she said of the case managers at the teen center in Brawley.

The center is managed by the Boys and Girls Club of Brawley and the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program's Steps of Success program. It has been open for about two and a half months.


"I was never home, always out with friends, but now I like to come here and work on stuff," said Biridiana.

"I've been there, I've done that and there's nothing really out there," she said of the streets.

"At first I didn't want to come here, but then I started liking it," she added.

The center is being housed in the former Clinicas de Salud sending/receiving building at 620 E St. in Brawley until the new center is finished.

The new teen center will be built on the north parking lot of the Lions Center and could be finished by the end of the year. It will cost about $1 million to construct.

Funding for the construction center will come from a California Youth Authority grant.

The center operations are being funded through a U.S. Department of Labor youth opportunities grant.

Additionally, the Lions Center will be upgraded with money from the city and from a block grant.

Construction on both projects will start in June.

The youth opportunities grant is a five-year grant and three years of funding have already been approved. Congress will decide whether to continue funding for the last two years.

Said Judy Chilcott, coordinator at the teen center: "We want to create an enhancement of opportunities for youths to learn a career and have a positive lifestyle, to negate gangs and have alternatives to becoming gang members."

"Kids have opportunities to gain self-esteem and positive lifestyles," she added.

Activities the center offers include computer learning, weight-lighting, foosball, air hockey, basketball, soccer, flag football, photo editing, digital and audio training, cake decorating and karate and self-defense classes.

"There's usually something that will attract everyone one way or another," said Chilcott.

Danny Molina, 17, of Brawley is a participant in the program.

"It's helped to keep me off the streets," he said.

Danny had been involved in the gang scene.

"I wanted to stop doing all those things on the streets," he said, "It might be fun for awhile but in the long run it won't help you."

"There's people here that will have your back," said Danny of the center.

Danny wants to be a U.S. Customs agent.

He will soon be working at the center helping others as he was once helped.

The program is only open to young people who live north of Main Street and east of the high school who are between the ages of 14 and 21. But Chilcott said once the new center opens she hopes to be allowed to bring in youths of younger ages.

Carlos Avalos, 15, of Brawley has been helped by the program.

Carlos said, "I couldn't get along with people. I would argue with them for every little thing.

"Now I can associate with people.

"It's good because it helps people change. It will help them out," he added.

Christine Gastelum, 19, of Brawley works a the center as a recreational aide. She didn't come to the center because of problems but because she needed a job.

In summer 2000 she moved to Brawley from Moreno Valley.

The Steps of Success program helped her find a job as a recreational aide that summer.

Now she is working at the center. The program also helped her conquer her shyness.

"They helped me out because I was very shy. My self-esteem went up and now I can talk to the community without being shy," she said.

The center is open from 1 to 9 p.m. Monday through Fridays and from 1 to 10 p.m. Saturdays.

Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3435.

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