WITH GANG INCIDENTS on the rise and the city's budget for tackling civic cleanup projects on the decline, Ventura's new City Corps could not have picked a better time to come along.
Based on a highly successful program in Oxnard, the program brings together youth and young adults who could be drawn to gang behavior and pairs them with peer leaders looking to make a difference through community service. The young people, aged 12-24, are given projects to plan, budget and then implement.
"By engaging them gradually in the projects, pumping up their self esteem and sense of worth, and by associating them with others in the same activities, they are given an alternative to the gangs," explained Bart Bleuel, who sits on the board of the new City Corps of the Central Coast.
By the way, Bleuel is a recent recipient of a national Jefferson Award for his volunteerism and is a strong contender in my estimation for the official title of Nicest Guy in Ventura. He doesn't just talk about changing the world. He actually does it. Kid causes are his specialty.
City Corps works by giving these young people a positive social outlet, Bleuel said. "It gives them a place with constancy where they can belong and succeed at their own pace, in their own way."
Team leaders are paid and opportunities are also sought for paid work for participants when possible. This real-world experience helps develops job skills. City Corps also hopes to provide structured after-school study and tutoring programs some day.
CITY CORPS WORKERS recently labored away on a hot, sunny Saturday planting flowers in the planters on Main Street Downtown as part of a beautification effort there. Also scheduled are litter cleanup, painting, carpentry, and street cleaning on the Avenue, various projects for Public Works, and setting up for city events like ArtWalk, the Fourth of July Street Fair and Music Under the Stars.
Ventura City Corps' prodigious counterpart across the Santa Clara River is funded through the City of Oxnard and works on 2,000 to 3,000 projects a year ranging from wetlands restoration at Ormond Beach to graffiti removal.
The new regional group includes Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. It's set up as a non-profit and as such receives no city funding and is actively seeking donations and grant opportunities. The project is being nurtured by the Ventura Chamber of Commerce and recently received a boost when the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted to let the group temporarily use a vacant county building at 77 California St. as its headquarters.
Bleuel's eyes light up whenever he discusses the program.
"If only 10 percent of the youth in each corps of 100 a year is at-risk and succeeds, and we have 10 cities participate over 10 years," he said, "that is 1,000 kids we will have saved from the gangs, and 1,000 kids who can go back into their neighborhoods to let others know there is an alternative."
Anyone who would like to volunteer for or donate to City Corps can call (805) 207-4234 or (805) 647-0567.
Note: The preview function in the comments system has not been working properly since we upgraded versions this week. While that is being fixed, please just hit "post" and your comments will be posted. If you forget and hit preview first, you can hit the "back" button to go back to your comment to post.