Youth get anti-gang push from MOSAIC mentors

Daily Sundial

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The Mentoring to Overcome Struggles and Inspire Courage, or MOSAIC, program will send 40 work-study students to after-school gang prevention programs as mentors this semester.

The students will work with area youth between the age seven and 17 to provide tutoring, counseling and sports activities. MOSAIC, which partners with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Jeopardy Program, Positive Alternatives for Youth and San Fernando Valley Partnership, is in its third year of operation. CSUN students work in the program for 10 hours each week, and are able to earn class units and financial aid for their work.

“Sometimes kids are arrested for tagging. That’s telling us the kids are interested in art,” said Maureen Rubin, director of the Center for Community-Service Learning at CSUN. “(We’re) giving them the positive way to do that, then opening them to a new whole world.”

This semester, the program features 40 work-study students, 20 graduate students and 150 service-learning youths. They work together to offer positive alternatives to joining gangs and to help youth find their interests by teaching them a wide range of enrichment activities such as sports, photography, jewelry and crafts, dance, music, creative writing and sign language.

“We never know what will click with kids,” Rubin said.

Mentors get practical experience as they expand their outreach and also learn about the causes and solutions to gang involvement, anger management and drug prevention.

According to Jennifer Roman, coordinator for MOSAIC, mentors serve at five places in the San Fernando Valley, including Panorama City, Pacoima and North Hills.

“Most students who have been mentors have had their lives affected,” Roman said. “Most students who come here have been from the community. So they just look like the kids they’re working with. They have experience similar to what kids have gone through.”

Mentors are real role models for kids in the communities, Rubin said.

Joel Garcia, senior sociology major and MOSAIC mentor, said he had been a volunteer at San Fernando Valley Partnership for nine years.

“We work with at risk youth between the ages of 12 and 18 who have been caught with drugs at school, been truant too often, or got bad grades,” Garcia said. “We’re helping with their homework, educating about different things that might be going on in their lives.”

Garcia said youth are becoming more active, and enjoy the company of the mentors.

“Maybe we’re not going to save everyone’s life, but sometimes someone just needs a friend or someone to talk to, and that’s why I’m here,” Garcia said. “I’m excited to be a part of the program because we have a chance to hang out with kids. It makes me feel good about myself.”

Mentors also share their experiences at CSUN with the students and encourage them to go to college.

Roman said a lot of the youth do not think they will go to college or succeed in anything beyond a regular job, so the mentors talk about identity with the youth and inspire self-confidence in them.

MOSAIC also promotes civic engagement activities, such as organizing community celebrations and learning about disaster preparation through public presentations.

A recent statistic from the LAPD revealed that the San Fernando Valley has 80 gangs with about 15,000 gang members, Rubin said.

Leaders of MOSAIC have been going to meetings across the San Fernando Valley.

Community leaders, including police, civic organizations, and individuals from colleges and churches, are a part of a San Fernando Valley coalition against gangs, and the group wanted to do something positive about gangs, according to Rubin.

“We learned what college students could do with help, and it became clear there are three things that gang prevention is involved with: prevention, intervention and suppression,” Roman said. “It was pretty clear to us that the best thing we could do would be to get involved with the prevention side.”

Before MOSAIC started, several after-school programs had one or two police officers and a couple of volunteers from the community speak to between 40 and 50 youths, but the programs lacked enrichment projects, materials and instruments, according to Rubin.

Since, the program is funded by a three-year $125,000 grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Learn and Serve America program, the program is not facing funding problems.

The Center for Community Service Learning is going to apply for a grant to expand the program to other CSU campuses, according to Rubin.

“The program has received national attention,” Roman said.

Last year, Rubin and Roman spoke about MOSAIC during a presentation at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Washington, D.C.

MOSAIC will do its part to encourage students to attend college by holding a conference for high school students and their parents at Reseda High School on Oct. 22 to provide information about CSUN and other community colleges.

“Our students have been documenting what they’ve been creating. We have a curriculum of both what worked and what didn’t work,” Rubin said. “We have materials that would allow other cities with gang problems to do what we did.”

Aya Oikawa can be reached at aya.oikawa.73@csun.edu.