Canada Gang prevention program expands to Surrey elementary schools amid Metro Vancouver violence

00:55  07 september  2017
00:55  07 september  2017 Source:   Vancouver Sun

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As preteens march off to elementary schools in Surrey this week, a group of elder peers is making plans to steer them away from the deadly path to gang life. Yo Bro | Yo Girl, a program for youth at risk

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090617-no_object-0906_youth_gangs-W.jpg:   © Gerry Kahrmann  

As preteens march off to elementary schools in Surrey this week, a group of elder peers is making plans to steer them away from the deadly path to gang life.

Yo Bro | Yo Girl, a program for youth at risk, is expanding to protect children as young as 11 from entering a violent lifestyle that is claiming the lives of young men on Surrey’s streets.

This year, for the first time, the program will run in 12 Surrey elementary schools while expanding to 12 secondary schools, up from 10 last year.

“The evidence currently coming out is showing that these kids are engaging in illicit behaviour at a very, very young age,” said Joe Calendino, a former “full-patch” Hells Angel who founded the program in 2009 with his wife, Brenda.

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While several programs exist for youth already involved in gangs, Yo Bro | Yo Girl is focused on early intervention and prevention, Calendino said. The non-profit provides mentorship and helps foster a sense of belonging in kids who are lacking a peer group, experimenting with drugs or who have an older brother or cousin involved in the drug trade. 

Often, they’re a student who is a “frequent flyer to the principal’s office,” said Calendino. “That’s where we go in and roll up our sleeves.”

Program facilitator Ary Azez followed a group of friends into the program when he was 15 after watching other peers turn to drugs and violence.

For Azez, 21, the program started out as a handful of students at Kwantlen Park Secondary meeting with Calendino to discuss his personal experiences with gang life and the latest news reports of shootings, stabbings and overdoses.

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This year, he’ll help lead the expansion into Grades 5, 6 and 7, where he hopes to be a positive influence during the younger students’ formative years.

“We sort of shut down that path and that option of going into drugs and gangs,” he said. “That’s our main goal.”

Azez said a typical weekly meeting with youth involves “hanging out and having a good time,” playing sports and engaging in casual conversation. Leaders aim to be role models, forming relationships with participants and making themselves available to them when they have questions or concerns.

They keep an eye out for shifts in a youth’s attitude or behaviour, asking “Hey, are you OK?” and then assessing how to proceed based on their individual needs, Azez said.

“At the end of they day, they don’t want to be lectured or told they’re wrong,” he said.

Last spring, the City of Surrey announced $150,000 in funding for Yo Bro | Yo Girl over three years, with the goal of expanding the program into elementary schools and reaching more youth.

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Calendino said there may be more than 1,600 participants in the program this year, up from 900 in 2016.

At the time of the funding announcement, Mayor Linda Hepner said the city understood how such early interventions play a direct role in the city’s public safety strategy.

Rob Rai, director of school and community connections for the Surrey School District, said focusing on prevention is a better use of resources than struggling to pull students from gang life after they’ve already become entrenched.

“The earlier on in life that they become attached to prosocial recreation, peers and role models and mentors, the greater the resiliency that they have,” Rai said.

The expansion comes as Surrey RCMP battle an ongoing, drug-related street war. Officers have responded to more than two dozen shootings so far this year and many have involved men in their late teens and early 20s. Victims of these often-brazen attacks have refused to co-operate with investigators.

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Surrey drivers targeted for testing U.S. road pricing program .
Road pricing is still very much a hypothetical in Metro Vancouver but dozens of Surrey-area residents will be getting a sneak peek next year as part of an experiment in Washington State. The Washington Road Usage Charge Pilot Project is seeking between 50 and 200 people from Surrey and surrounding cities to volunteer as test drivers for a mobility pricing scheme meant to eventually replace the state's current gas tax."We've kind of determined that it will generate the revenue needed and it is feasible," Reema Griffith, executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission, told CBC News.

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