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Central Los Angeles

Skating Club Offers an Escape From Gangs, Drugs

May 30, 1996|MONICA VALENCIA

They call themselves the "Down Town Rollers,"--a 15-member team of grade school Latinos who zip across blacktop parking lots in the Pico-Union district on their new in-line skates.

"It's pretty fun. We're learning new ways to skate," said Christian Lerma, a fourth-grader at 10th Street Elementary School.

In an effort to turn Latino youth away from the drugs, gangs and violence that plague the neighborhood, members of a community center for the homeless have organized a skating club.

The team formed six months ago after a few students watched Ted Hayes, an avid skater and activist, gliding by them along 9th Street.

"They said, 'Ooooh, look at that dude! Look at that guy skating,' " Hayes said. "They stopped me and asked if they could skate with me."

But not all of them could afford in-line skates. So in December, Hayes met with staff from the Dome Village for the Homeless, a housing facility that aids homeless and low-income families, to develop a skating club.

In addition to teaching at-risk youth fancy skating techniques, Hayes and volunteers incorporate educational messages to alter some of the negative influences that affect the Pico-Union district, an area with the highest homicide rate in Los Angeles, according to LAPD statistics.

Volunteers from the village conduct hourlong meetings with the team each week. They discuss leadership skills, safety issues and try to motivate them to stay in school.

"We're showing them how they can be positive role models in their communities," Hayes said. "The team is growing. They're bringing in more and more friends . . . showing other kids how to skate."

This month, Hayes distributed in-line skates to children who demonstrated a commitment to participate in the program by attending the weekly club meetings.

About two dozen pairs of in-line skates were donated to the group by AmeriCares, a national organization that aids disaster victims. The group also donated about two dozen hockey sticks, knee pads and equipment bags.

Team skaters meet after school at the community center to play games such as hockey and cops and robbers at nearby parking lots.

The group is gearing up for a race Sunday at a community event at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

"They [group volunteers] tell us we should stay away from bad things like smoking and gangs," Lerma said. "So we skate."

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