12/20/2014

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More help coming for at-risk youth in Sunnyside

More help coming for at-risk youth in Sunnyside
SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- Sunnyside is trying to change its reputation of gang problems. Help is coming from a local church. It will start next year by providing a place for at risk kids after school.

Desmond Rodriguez saw plenty of gang behavior growing up in Sunnyside.

"It was pretty bad, we had recently bought a new house and we built our own wall and there was taggings all over," said Rodriguez. "The newspaper, now shootings everywhere with gangs."

Sunnyside wants to change that behavior.

The Oasis Church is about to launch a program called The Underground. It is designed for at-risk kids, those once tied to gangs. The Underground will offer gang outreach workers and a Youth Development specialist.

Organizers feel that building relationships is key to making a difference.

"We believe in them and that there is a brighter future out there for them based on what we will build as relationships and not based on who or where they came from," said Suzi Carpino, Youth Development Specialist.

Teachers and administrators can refer kids to the program. But kids can also show up themselves.

The Underground will also help kids who may have been part of sex trafficking. This is a growing problem many don't realize is happening in our community.

Workers don't expect results overnight. But hope to develop trust for kids who have nowhere to turn.

"We really want them to feel like someone cares and that there is a safe place and there's second chances and that they haven't run into a brick wall because of past behaviors," said Carpino.

It's all part of the goal of driving gangs out of Sunnyside, and building on the turnaround Desmond has seen.

"It was worse back then, but it's rarely, I rarely see it now, Sunnyside's been doing a pretty good job," said Rodriguez.

The Underground hopes to work with 100 kids next year.
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