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Grooming for the Future : Education: A volunteer community program teaches ninth-grade girls how to feel good about themselves.


After following the blue line on the floor past the watch commander's office, the holding cell and the closed-circuit cameras, 25 teen-age girls filed into a large office Saturday in the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division.

They sat in rows of chairs and fidgeted and chattered. But the girls were not in any trouble. In fact, they were there to attend a class that police hope will keep them out of trouble.

The girls, mostly 13 and 14 years old, are ninth-grade students at Florence Nightingale Junior High School in Mt. Washington. They were at the station for the second session of a Saturday program that attempts to teach girls how to improve their appearance and self-image.

The program is put on by the Northeast Youth Athletic League, a volunteer community organization affiliated with the Police Department that establishes activities to deter children from becoming involved in gangs and other criminal activities, said Officer Mike Howard, who is in charge of community relations.

The league runs a boxing program established after the 1984 Summer Olympics. The personal grooming series was held once before and was brought back in order to attract more girls, Howard said.

After scrubbing their faces last Saturday, the girls began to apply makeup. One carefully stroked on eye shadow, checking her work with a small, pink mirror, while another brushed her eyebrows to make them just right. Another laughed as an instructor tried to line the student's eyes with eye liner. All this, combined with doses of laughter and squeals, went on for three hours.

Lois M. Miller, a representative of Mary Kay Cosmetics, said the series covers four areas: hair care, makeup, dress and job-hunting.

The students will also be given pointers on proper job interview behavior by an attorney in charge of hiring at a corporation.

Sandra Huerta, 14, attended the first two sessions.

"Our school dean told us about it," she said. "She was telling us it was a new experience, and I decided to come."

Huerta, who aspires to be an architect, said the information in the makeup class was more valuable than the first session, which included a pitch for beauty school along with hair care information.

Susie Orozco, 14, said the class, especially the session on job interviews, would help the students succeed.

The job-interview sessions in particular will be useful because, "I'm going to know what they are going to be expecting," she said.

Linda Ritchie-Daza, dean of students at Nightingale, said she chose the girls for the classes based on input from counselors, dropout coordinators and the school's assistant principal.

Students who could use a boost in self-esteem, whether they are low or high achievers, were chosen for the class, Ritchie-Daza said. Once word got out, the girls selected began referring others to the program, she said.

Any positive activity that brings young people in contact with police is beneficial, Ritchie-Daza said.

Howard said activities such as those the league is working to develop are helpful in keeping young people out of gangs and other criminal activities.

"Even if you only keep one out of gangs, then it is worth it," he said. "Experience has shown that we are not going to be able to affect them all, but you've got to be optimistic."

The Northeast Youth Athletic League began several years ago with the boxing program that was started with surplus money from the Olympics.

With that money, the youth program was able to purchase a boxing ring that is set up in the back of the police station.

Besides boxing and the personal grooming class, the league will be starting a project that will distribute sporting equipment to five area elementary schools.

Howard, who has been at Northeast Division for just a few weeks, said he hopes to find a permanent facility for the league to develop into something similar to the Hollenbeck Youth Center in Boyle Heights.

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