Youth initiative targets elementary schools as part of gang prevention program

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – A youth initiative is hoping to work with kids as young as 11 years old, to help prevent them from taking up a life of crime.

“To prevent the problem is a much easier job than getting investing when they are heavily engaged in various different activities,” says Yo Bro | Yo Girl‘s Joe Calendino, a former member of the Hells Angels and recovering addict.

As executive director and co-founder of the initiative, Calendino says this new expansion to work with elementary school students has been in the works for close to three years. He explains there’s evidence that people are getting involved with criminal behaviour at a younger age.

“We’re currently seeing the age category of those that get invested in the lifestyle –whether it be the shootings or the deaths– drop quite substantially from five years ago where it was 30 something to now being 21 to 17.”

He’s learned from his mistakes first-hand, and has invested his time and effort into giving back and helping others avoid the wrong path.

The programs provide youth with positive community engagement, and help youngsters turn high-risk behaviour into positivity and strength.

The kids are also exposed to healthy role models, like Ary Azez, who joined the program himself in 2011 at the age of 16.

“I first joined the program when I was in high school at Kwantlen Park Secondary,” says Azez, now a program facilitator with Yo Bro | Yo Girl. “For me it was just walking by and seeing a group of my friends having fun and just hanging out in our small gym at the time. I wanted to be a part of it and join.”

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He explains the decision would be one of the biggest he’d ever make. Azez adds positive role models helped him through trying times by giving him advice, teaching him and listening to him.

“It’s made such a positive impact on my life, I can’t begin to explain it.”

The organization offers several programs, all aimed at getting heavily invested with the kids.

“There’s everything from in-school, during school, out of school, during spring break, Christmas break, weekends and summer. The programs are being facilitated pretty well all year round.”

Calendino created the Yo Bro | Yo Girl Youth initiative back in 2009, with his wife Brenda.

The expansion to elementary schools and students as young as grade six is being rolled out within the next few weeks.

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According to the group’s website, more than 1,000 young people are reached every year through programs crafted with School Districts in Surrey, Chilliwack and Vancouver.

To learn more about the organization as well as how you can help, click here.

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