The Commission for South Gate Youth has a goal: "to establish a community of healthy young people by the year 2000."
The goal may sound lofty, but since its inception in 1988, the volunteer organization claims that its efforts are partially responsible for lower dropout rates in city schools, fewer drug-related juvenile offenses and a drop in the number of gangs.
The group hopes to implement a "character education" curriculum in all of the city's elementary schools, said police Chief Ron George, commission adviser. Two of the city's 10 schools have started using the program.
At a recent meeting at Liberty Avenue Elementary School, teachers listened as a consultant described the Jefferson Center for Character Education curriculum, a program that teaches values and personal responsibility and has been implemented elsewhere in the school district.
The Jefferson Center, a Pasadena-based nonprofit organization founded in 1963, teaches ethical decision-making and common values such as honesty, tolerance and politeness in schools throughout the country. A 1990 survey of 25 Los Angeles Unified School District schools that participated in the program showed decreases in discipline problems, more participation in extracurricular activities and an increase in morale.
"We believe in this program to the extent that we are willing to pay for it," George said.
So far, the commission has spent $9,700 to sponsor the program at Tweedy Elementary and South Gate Junior High schools.
Without the commission's support, Liberty Elementary probably could not take on the values program, said Principal Edison Griffith. "With funding, we look at what's going to improve our school instructionally first," he said.
This year, the Commission for South Gate Youth has raised about $80,000 from individuals, small businesses, organizations and corporations to support youth activities in the city.
The commission also sponsors a hot line for parents, anti-drug and anti-gang programs in the schools, yearly anti-drug and anti-gang marches, and a youth leadership conference.
On Nov. 21, the Commission will co-sponsor Youth Appreciation Night, during which students will be awarded scholarships for serving their school or community.
A trophy case at City Hall attests to the commission's work. The group has been recognized by organizations ranging from the FBI to the League of California Cities.
The commission has a mandate, George said, to stop "whatever it is that happens to those cute little kindergartners with the big eyes who become 13-year-olds hauling guns."
The commission meets at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Police Department. Meetings are open to the public.
Information: (213) 563-5452.