SAN CLEMENTE — Sirens blaring and weapons drawn, the sheriff's deputies converged on 36 suspected members of the Varrios Chicos San Clemente in a ball field during a "jumping-in"--a gang initiation where recruits are thrashed by veteran members.
And that is how 33-year-old Michael Beekman chanced to meet young Octavio Carillo one summer night last year.
Before Carillo, then 17, and his friends were hauled off to jail for alleged gang activities, Beekman, a reserve deputy and high school wood shop teacher, delivered a peculiar sort of sermon, given the circumstances.
Beekman told Carillo and anybody else who would listen all about building houses--about how they could learn a job skill in his construction class, and at the same time, get themselves off the streets.
"He just sat down and started talking to us," Carillo recalled. "He seemed pretty cool."
Thousands of nails and hammer blows later, the youth helps build houses for the community, has signed up for college and aspires to be an architect.
"He's come a long way," said Beekman. "It's kind of neat to see the light click on."
Beekman paused, and remembered, "the first time I met him, he was at gunpoint."
For a decade, youths like Carillo have enrolled in Beekman's construction class at San Clemente and Capistrano Valley high schools under the Regional Occupational Program.
Every year, the teacher takes a few at-risk students, shows them how to pound nails, cut lumber, design architectural models using mathematical formulas and otherwise create livable structures out of plywood and two-by-fours. Then he assigns them to actual projects for the community.
"What I try to do is recruit projects that are good for the community and at the same time give [the students] a sense of pride," Beekman said.
Under Beekman's guidance, and with donations from local businesses, the students have built everything from a counseling office for the Las Palmas Children's Mental Health Clinic to storage sheds for the Capistrano Unified School District to a portable sheriff's office at the San Clemente Pier.
This month, Beekman's San Clemente summer school class has started work on yet another project: a training prop for the search and rescue dogs of Federal Emergency Management Agency's California Task Force Five--the same team that helped with the search and rescue efforts after the Oklahoma City bombing in April.
"All I did is point them in the right direction," said the low-key Beekman. "They did all the work."
But there's more to Beekman's method than just showing his students how to build things. They know he's trying to help them and that he cares. He listens, doesn't make judgments, and as one 15-year-old student, Ramon Uribe said, "He never yells at us. He's just a neat guy."
"They really appreciate that he's trying to teach them a life skill," said David Wheeler, superintendent of the Capistrano Valley and Laguna Beach Regional Occupational Program. "He's honest with them, but he doesn't preach to them. He talks to them at their level."
Treating students with respect while teaching them no-nonsense skills has earned Beekman a reputation.
"People know that if they've got a kid who doesn't have direction, they'll put them in his class," Wheeler said. "The vast majority are at-risk kids."
As a reservist with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, Beekman had many opportunities to cross paths with troubled teen-agers while on patrol.
These days, he serves on the sheriff's search and rescue reserve. Last April, he volunteered with the California Task Force Five, working day and night in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, pulling victims out of the rubble.
"Mike's a professional, both as a teacher and in law enforcement," said Lt. Tom Davis, police services chief. "He's been instrumental in maintaining a channel between at-risk kids and law enforcement."
Beekman was wearing his law enforcement hat when he met Octavio Carillo--he was helping to arrest him.
After being charged with disturbing the peace, Carillo was found guilty in Juvenile Court but received probation. He remembered what Beekman had said about his construction class.
"I figured it would get me off the streets," said Carillo.
Before long, Carillo was enrolled in Beekman's class and working on a project for the same deputies who had arrested him only a few months earlier.
Under Beekman's guidance, Carillo and about 15 other students designed and built the little gray sheriff's office that now sits at the front of the San Clemente Pier, providing a law enforcement presence at the beach.
For Carillo and other Latino students who worked on the structure, Beekman's class became much more than just another vocational course. It brought them a sense of self-worth.
"Some people think that Mexicans do nothing," Carillo said. "We hope that they'll see this and know that we can do something good for the community too."