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Worcester PD Reaches Out to City Youth with Summer G.A.N.G. Camp

August 18, 2008
By: WSU News

I just to try to set a path for them and find out what they want to be when they get older, said G.A.N.G Camp staff member Jacob Bottom.

Sounds like great advice from a decent and responsible adult looking to give back to some of the troubled youth of his community.

Indeed it is great advice, but Jacob Bottom isn’t an adult at all.

He’s actually a 13-year old former camper turned staff member and living proof of what great strides the Worcester Police Department Gang Unit and their G.A.N.G Camp have accomplished over the last five years.

G.A.N.G., which stands for Gang Awareness for the Next Generation, took place recently at Worcester State College.  It is a three-week camp that educates over 300 campers a year, all hailing from Worcester, from the ages of 8-16.

Worcester Police Department Gang Unit Sergeant Miguel Lopez serves as the camps director, and has been involved since its inception five years ago.

Basically we’re all Worcester police officers inside the gang unit and once a year we take out what ends up being 300 kids, 100 kids per week, and we put on this camp geared towards gang prevention, drug prevention, and positive adult role-modeling, Lopez said.

Sgt. Lopez and his staff stress the importance of reaching kids early in life, with statistics showing gang involvement and recruitment starts as early as the age of ten.

The basis of the camp is that we’re trying to target these kids at an early age, between 11 and 13, Lopez said.  You look at these kids, and a lot of them look very young, but this is the group that is being targeted, so we’re trying to get our message out to them before anyone else does.

Unlike programs like D.A.R.E., that focus more on visiting schools and educating young people in a classroom atmosphere, Sgt. Lopez and his staff take a more hands on approach, bringing the kids together in an atmosphere where relationships and friendships can be developed.

We take kids from different parts of the city and we bring them together. We create a shared history among these kids and we believe that that shared history is what reduces crime and violence later on in life, Lopez said.

Along with building these relationships, Lopez looks to provide the campers with positive role models of all different ages.

Some of the staff members are kids who were in this camp, kids who’ve been in our programs, and all the lead staff is Worcester PD, Lopez said.

Lopez takes pride in the fact that the officers at G.A.N.G. camp aren’t just classroom cops, and that many of them will be seen on the streets, making their message hit home that much more.

Although the kids get to see us in a different light at camp, we’re also very active police officers, Lopez said.

They’ll see us on the street late at night, executing a search warrant or arresting somebody, so they know and see the real element to the whole thing. Its not like we’re just telling them these things for our health, or because were told to say it. We believe in what we do and that’s why we’re doing it.

Richie Saya, a second-year camper, enjoys the fun and exciting atmosphere of the camp, but he isn’t here just to play games.

I like the camp a lot because they teach you how to not be in gangs and stuff and we play a lot of games, Saya said. But people are here to learn. I wouldn’t come if it was just fun and games. I came here to learn, too.

Saya is one of the 300 campers lucky enough to be accepted into the G.A.N.G. camp.  What started out as a camp for 50 has grown nearly six times in size in its short history.

But its a problem that Lopez and his staff are happy to have.

Everything is voluntary, but actually every year we have to turn kids away, Lopez said. If we had the money, we could probably do 200 kids a week.

CJ Students Assist WPD with G.A.N.G. Camp

During the month of July, student volunteers from the WSC Criminal Justice Program joined with staff from the Worcester Police Department Gang Unit, and the Boys and Girls Club of Worcester for three separate weeks of Gang Prevention Summer Camps.

CJ students were paired with Worcester Police officers and Worcester Boys and Girls Club staff on teams of Worcester youth from 10-15 years old.  Students were engaged in classes, sports activities, police canine demonstrations, and field trips.

With the assistance of Criminal Justice Professors Steve Morreale and Matt Palumbo, students gained valuable experience and were able to see firsthand the potential benefits of proactive, hands on police involvement in prevention.   Several members of the Worcester Police in attendance of the camp are alumnus of WSC.  Activities took place on campus, at Foley Stadium and at Shore Park.  Campers traveled to the Southwick Zoo, Department of Youth Services Holding facilities, and the Worcester County House of Corrections.

Students assisted in organizing and supervising several activities, bonded with Worcester at-risk youth and met management and members of the Worcester Police Department Gang Units.

The following Criminal Justice students participated: Kaylyn Hewey, Kendra Kellett, Blakely Belisto, Anjeza Xhemollari, William White, Danielle Porter, Christina Bisbee, Carlos Sousa, Ryan Arseneualt, Nicole Schrunk,  Kevin OBrien, Tom Belanger, Dan Hartz, and Richard Rice. Photo by Professor Morreale.

Written by Adam Lyons ’09

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