Union Gap hopes to start Gang Free Initiative program soon

Union Gap hopes to start Gang Free Initiative program soon »Play Video
UNION GAP, Wash. -- Union Gap is following the lead of many other cities in the Yakima Valley on how to tackle crime. The city is hoping to start their own Gang Free Initiative soon. The first step in the process is to apply for federal funding for the program.

Francisco Valencia knows the pressure young people can face to get involved with gangs. He says it's a path he could have gone down, had it not been for the guidance he was given as a child.

"Pretty much it was my mom," said Valencia. "My mom, she, I got suspended one time, and she sat me down and gave me a really heart-to-heart talk, and it kind of just opened my eyes."

Support from his mother and the conscious decision to get involved with other activities are what he says made the difference.

"I could have gone down that road, but I chose to do, like, welding classes, automotive classes, you know, and now I'm a welder, I'm a fabricator now," said Valencia.

Gang Free Initiatives across the Valley seek to accomplish this same goal. By getting kids involved with sports and extracurricular activities from a young age, they hope to keep them off the streets and show them a positive lifestyle.

"These alter the focus of running around trying to go and steal cars, trying to shoot people, you know, things like that," said Valencia.

Union Gap officials say they haven't noticed a significant increase in gang activity, but they want to tackle the problem before it rises to the level it has in surrounding areas. Officials plan to partner with ESD 105, in applying for federal funding. They say it will work similarly to Yakima's program.

The application for the funding asks them to specifically address youth substance abuse by identifying what leads to the problem, implementing a plan to deal with it, and evaluating their strategies.

"So that kind of just changed my whole perspective on where I need to be and what I need to be doing in life," said Valencia.

Taking action now, so more kids can make positive decisions like Francisco.

Union Gap City Council will vote this week to allow their city manager to move ahead in applying for grants for their GFI program.