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ENTERTAINMENT : A Gang's New Haunt : The Wednesday Night Regulars build a fright house as part of the Clean and Sober Carnival scheduled Saturday.

October 23, 1992|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray writes regularly for Valley Life.

Call them hauntrepreneurs.

They're working afternoons, evenings and weekends to turn a Pacoima park gym into a "haunt ed house" with rooms labeled "Torture Chamber," "Night of the Living Dead," "Exorcist" and "Backyard Grave Yard."

For $1-$2, local children and others are invited to tour the "Nightmare on Herrick Avenue," an effort designed and created by former and active gang members in Pacoima.

The haunted house will be one of many attractions at the Clean and Sober Carnival on Saturday at the David M. Gonzalez/Pacoima Recreation Center. The carnival is sponsored by the San Fernando Valley Alcohol Policy Coalition, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Pacoima Coordinating Council.

The haunted house is a community service effort of the Wednesday Night Regulars, a group that was started a year ago to steer teen-agers associated with the Project Boys--one of the first and largest Latino gangs in the Valley--toward community involvement and activism.

Former and current gang members in the group were contacted last year by Rose Casteneda, an aide to Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City) when the office was getting complaints about crime in the area's 448-unit public housing project.

"I had lived in the project for 15 years as a single parent on welfare," said Casteneda, "so the only contact I needed was my son. He made a phone call for me--he told the kids to meet with me to talk about the problems--and five showed up."

Casteneda said the gang-related kids were skeptical at first of what a congressman's aide could do for them, but as the group continued to meet every Wednesday night, they began to trust each other and to tackle local community projects.

The 70-member Wednesday Night Regulars helped set up booths and provided security at the Pacoima Elementary School carnival, and later helped paint the school, Casteneda said. They planted flowers and shrubs at the housing projects. And many are now employed or going to school, thanks to the efforts and contacts of Berman's office and of Arthur Broadous, the Van Nuys representative for Mayor Tom Bradley's office.

Broadous thought up the haunted house, and the group fleshed out the idea. Members decided how to divide the gym into rooms and developed different task forces to work on each. Broadous sought donations of supplies and consultation.

Contributions have included a guillotine and wood scraps from Scenery West in Los Angeles, a 10-foot dragon head from Neotek in Burbank and other scenery and help from Western Studio Services in Burbank and Lexington Scenery in Sun Valley, Broadous said.

Ruben Ledesma, 22, who said he founded the gang eight years ago when he was in seventh grade, says the Wednesday Night Regulars have helped turn his life around.

"A lot of people will probably be a little scared--a haunted house run by a gang. But our work is coming from the heart and the community knows that we've been doing good," Ledesma said.

Ledesma has been working at the Pacoima Senior Citizen Multipurpose Center, driving seniors to doctors' visits, to the store and other appointments. He hopes to attend Mission College next semester to study social work. Other former gang members are pursuing similar goals, Ledesma said.

The activities of the Wednesday Night Regulars are helping gang members put their energy into something positive, Casteneda said. "They're too busy to gang-bang. Somebody asked Ruben Ledesma what the name of their gang was, and he said, 'The Wednesday Night Regulars.' "

Where and When

What: The haunted house, "Nightmare on Herrick Avenue," part of the Clean and Sober Carnival.

Location: The David M. Gonzalez/Pacoima Recreation Center, 10943 Herrick Ave., Pacoima.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Price: Adults $2, $1 for children $3 and under.

Call: Rep. Howard Berman's office, (818) 891-0543, or the David M. Gonzalez/Pacoima Recreation Center, (818) 899-1950.

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