Yakima's Gang Free Initiative preps for first group of at-risk kids

Yakima's Gang Free Initiative preps for first group of at-risk kids
YAKIMA, Wash. -- After seeing gang incidents triple last year, Yakima will soon have new tools to tackle the problem as the Gang Free Initiative prepares to help its first group of at-risk kids.

At only 15 years old, Aldo knows what this means to have a mentor spend time with him every week.

"I didn't have a father growing up so he just took that place," said Aldo, who didn't want his full identity revealed.

Aldo has been a mentee with the YMCA's "Aspire" program for more than four years.

"He shows me right from wrong," said Aldo.

Soon, the YMCA will expand its mentor program to help more kids under the Gang Free Initiative umbrella.

"Somebody that cares about them, is committed to them, can help them kind of shepherd their way through difficult circumstances," said Yakima's YMCA Executive Director Bob Romero.

The YMCA is one of four organizations so far that will be part of the Gang Free Initiative; groups that will work with kids to keep them from falling in with the wrong crowd.

The goal is to give 30 kids at both Barge Lincoln and Garfield Elementary schools a mentor.

That's a total of 60 kids at two schools GFI leaders say need the most help.

"The people that are in the pipeline to be in gangs now, this isn't going to blow them out. We're talking about heading off the next generation," said Yakima City Councilmember Dave Ettl.

It starts with 3rd and 4th graders; mentoring them in several ways at school once a week.

The group People for People will field calls from parents who want services for their kids while Madison house will tutor them.

And, the Yakima Police Athletic League will work on their life skills and promote gang awareness.

"I think it takes everybody in the community banding together to address it and to try and find solutions," said Romero.

Solutions that start with the most vulnerable.

"He just got me on a straight path," said Aldo.

A path the Gang Free Initiative and its partners hope to provide. GFI leaders are working to add more providers.

KIMA learned the group says two more partnerships are in the works but won't say who.

An open house will be held next month for the Gang Free Initiative.