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Community News: Southeast

SOUTH GATE : Churches' Group Targets Gang Youths

October 25, 1992|DUKE HELFAND

In an effort to lure young people from gangs, South Gate police and religious leaders are working together in a new organization that provides safe activities for youths.

Churches in Action, or CIA, has attracted hundreds of youths to its events over the past 2 1/2 months. About 700 people, most of them teen-agers, turned out last weekend for a "fun day" in South Gate Park that featured Christian rock groups and rap music.

Police Chief Ron George, who helped set up the organization, said the religious community's involvement is crucial to the city's effort to reduce gang membership. About 10 churches are currently involved in CIA, and George hopes to sign on most of the 30-plus churches in the city.

"The churches have a lot of power over our youth," George said. "They have an obligation to do something together, and they have accepted that willingly and with excitement. We see it getting better as time goes on."

George said that between 1988 and 1991, the number of known gang members in South Gate dropped from 1,000 to 300, and the number of gangs from 17 to eight. He attributed the decrease to educational efforts in South Gate schools and to the Commission for South Gate Youth, a body of city, business, religious and school leaders that promotes anti-gang programs.

The Rev. George Jameson, pastor of the South Gate Park View Foursquare Church, hopes the group's initial success will help establish it among South Gate youths. He envisions anti-gang and anti-drug rallies, a "singspiration" with a well-known entertainer, and basketball and softball leagues coordinated through the churches.

Jameson, who with George spearheaded the drive to set up the organization, said CIA is unusual because the churches are setting aside personal agendas for the first time to concentrate on a single issue.

"Churches usually have a hard time coming together. They're afraid they'll lose parishioners to one another," Jameson said. "We are endeavoring to bypass that type of thinking and focus the attention on the youth rather than on ourselves. I have great feelings about this. If we can stop one kid from taking drugs or killing himself, then it is worth it."

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