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Community News: Mid-City

RAMPART AREA : A Peaceful Night Out for City Children

August 07, 1994|LESLIE BERESTEIN

Surrounded by hundreds of people brandishing anti-crime slogan banners and picket signs, a group of children peered out curiously from underneath an enormous orange banner decorated with multicolored handprints, reading: "North Coronado Terrace Kids' Neighborhood Watch."

"I couldn't get their parents to come, but I got the kids," said Cristina Goyen, supporting one end of the banner as she kept a watchful eye on her wards, who ranged in age from 5 to 12 years old.

Along with members of at least 60 other community groups, Goyen and her companions were among the thousands who participated Tuesday evening in the first citywide observance of National Night Out.

Marches originated from several points throughout the Mid-City area and culminated in front of the Police Department's Rampart Division headquarters.

As they munched on hot dogs and pasta in front of the station while rap groups played and the Goodyear blimp circled overhead, community group members discussed how they are trying to clean up their neighborhoods.

Involving children in activities to keep them off the streets, most agreed, is important to saving their communities in the long run.

"This is the future," said Goyen, motioning toward her group of youngsters, whom she oversees on Saturday litter patrols and Wednesday arts and crafts workshops.

"Gang activity in this neighborhood is very strong," she said. "They recruit kids this age."

Giggling among his friends, 10-year-old Manuel Dominguez chimed in with his own description of what he and his fellow neighborhood watch members get out of their activities: "They teach us not to do drugs, or be cholos, or do bad things."

A few yards away near the stage, Paul and Joan Gamberg of the Upper Rampart Heights Neighborhood Watch chatted with Albert Crnkovich, a Westlake retiree who regularly volunteers to paint out graffiti and pick up litter in his neighborhood.

Crnkovich was on his way to ask the event's organizers whether he should don his McGruff the Crime Dog suit--something he does regularly at area schools--to entertain the children in the audience.

"Rampart is really starting to hop," said Paul Gamberg, straining his voice to be heard above a nearby stereo speaker. "There's some fusion going on, and less confusion."

One of the purposes served by neighborhood rallies, Gamberg said, is a chance for people to network, to familiarize themselves with the cleanup efforts other community members are undertaking.

"You work around here for a few years and you begin to know who's who," he said. "Back in 1991, we began connecting the dots. Now we're starting to identify resources."

On the other side of the stage, Manuel Recinos watched the carnival-like festivities with amusement. Recinos is a volunteer soccer coach for about 40 children and teens from Westlake, Pico-Union and South-Central who belong to an after-school gardening and sports program sponsored by St. Vincent Medical Center.

Recinos said rallies are good for the community's morale but more after-school and weekend youth programs are really needed.

"The police should seek more volunteers trained in things such as sports, so that they can help the community by teaching kids," he said. "It's the kids that matter."

Taking neighborhood youths to plant and tend crops at the medical center's community garden three times a week and then rewarding them with soccer games is one way in which Recinos, program coordinator Victor Hercules and other volunteers believe they can benefit the community in the long run.

The medical center's program has become so popular, Recinos said, that volunteers sometimes have difficulty shuttling all the kids to the garden, the games and their respective homes.

"Lots of times, I don't have a chance to eat," he said. "I come home at 10, after dropping them all off in the van. But that's OK, because I'm helping create a better future."

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