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Galarza identifies education, tattoo removal, gangs as top youth issues – Santa Maria Times (subscription)

Posted in Tattoo Removal on Jun 28, 2017

Access to education, the need to remove tattoos and the fear of gangs are some of the issues affecting young people in the city of Santa Maria, according to city Outreach CoordinatorEddie Galarza.

Though the Santa Maria Mayors Task Force on Youth Safety is just getting started on a plan to make the city safer for young people, Galarza, who is a member, has been out on the street connecting to resources and discovering what is impacting at-risk youth since he came on board at the beginning of the year.

When I am out here, I talk to the teens. And spread the word about what the city is doing for them. About what is available at the Abel Maldonado Center. I talk to the parents — all the parents I can talk to — about gang violence and invite them to the meetings the city is having, Galarza said.

He has been reaching out to schools, recreation programs and has received referrals from other partner agencies.

A major issue Galarza keeps coming across is the language barrier.

“Some parents that don’t speak English don’t understand what is happening with their kids,” Galarza said.

He estimates that hes met with a few hundred young people and families since he started working for the city. When he connects with folks, he tries to triage their issues and connect them to the correct resource to help them get what they need.

I can care less about the political side of things. I am here to help the kids. I am here to help them stay out of gangs, stay out of drugs, to help them if they have problems at home, if there is violence at home. That is my job, Galarza said.

Sometimes all someone needs is a person to talk to and to see that someone cares, Galarza said.

The mayor and outreach coordinator are engaging directly with the students at school, during the school year, and the city has begun serving students for the Safe and Strong program, which will provide further opportunities to engage the youth directly on the issue of youth safety, said Jason Stilwell, assistant Santa Maria city manager.

Galarza estimates he meets with about 120 young people a week.

We are impressed with Eddies knowledge of the community and ability to engage the youth. When creating the position, the city council sought to have a person who can do that and he has done what the council had hoped and then some, Stilwell said.

Galarza has more than 25 years of experience working with local at-risk young people and families.

Galarza worked for 20 years with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Maria Valley as the Director of Character and Leadership. While there, he implemented programs like the Youth of the Year, the Keystone Club, the Million Hours of Service Program, the Torch Club, and accompanied youth to national conferences.

Recently, Galarza worked for Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley, where he received client referrals and supported Fighting Backs numerous programs.

I was at Los Prietos Boys Camp the other day. I was talking to those boys about what they need when they get out, Galarza said.

Hes heard from a lot of people that recognize that education could help them build a better future away from gangs and other influences but feel there is a large divide when it comes to access to that education.

During a recent Mayors Task Force on Youth Violence meeting, he pointed out that there is only one GED program locally; many people have to travel out of the city to have access to classes.

The only program we have is the GED program at Allan Hancock College, Galarza said. A lot of these teens need more one-on-one help.

Galarza has also learned that there is still a lot of gang activity in the city of Santa Maria.

He discovered another gap in services when it comes to gang tattoos.

I tell these kids all the time; if you are serious about getting out of the gang you have to get rid of those tattoos, Galarza said.

Tattoo removal is an expensive, multi-treatment procedure. The closest non-profit group helping gang members and others remove tattoos is in San Luis Obispo County.

Galarza said even though he has met gang members that want to leave and change their lives, gangs are still actively recruiting in the city of Santa Maria.

Some kids dont want to walk home from school for fear of gangs hanging around recruiting, he said.

The Mayors Task Force on Youth Safety is working to gather information like what Galarza has heard during a series of public forms. The last two in this first series are set for 6:30 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday evening at the citys Veterans Memorial Community Center, 313 W. Tunnel Street. Monday’s meeting will be in Spanish.

The work of the task force is progressing. We have two more forums next week to solicit community input about youth safety. We are continuing to engage the partners serving the youth in the community to share data and have the information to better articulate challenges the community has relative to youth safety. That will enable us to respond more effectively with our limited resources going forward, Stilwell said.

This is just the first step, Galarza said.

The next step is to identify where there are gaps in services to help young people and families and fill them with the services the members of the task forces policy council provide. The policy committee is made up of public agencies, education and other outreach organizations.

At lot has progressed since this effort redoubled and it is great to have the involvement of so many policymakers from throughout the community on the Mayors Task Force, Stilwell said.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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Galarza identifies education, tattoo removal, gangs as top youth issues – Santa Maria Times (subscription)

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