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VALLEY ROUNDUP | Panorama City

Program to Help Teens Convicted of Minor Crimes

October 25, 1998|HOLLY EDWARDS

Hundreds of teens convicted of minor crimes are expected to participate in a new program called Project Teen Reach, starting Nov. 2 at the Volunteer Center in Panorama City.

Funded for a year by a $60,000 state grant, the program will help troubled teens develop a sense of self-esteem, purpose and connection with their communities, said project coordinator Israel Ortiz. A new group of 80 to 100 teens will enroll every eight weeks.

Ortiz said that as a teen, he too got involved with a gang and had substance-abuse problems, but he was able to reform with the help of counseling. Now, he says he wants to help wayward teens find a new direction.

"Unfortunately, I didn't get help until I was an adult," he said. "If I can help these teens now, they won't waste as much time as I did."

Teens will be referred to the program by the city probation department and juvenile traffic court. The program will target first or second offenders who have not gotten involved with more serious crimes, said outreach coordinator Cambria Smith. Typical offenses will be truancy, driving while impaired, minor drug possession or breaking and entering, she said.

The program curriculum will focus on developing decision-making, goal-setting and job-seeking skills, Ortiz said, and program participants will be required to perform a four-hour community service project.

"We want the projects to involve working with people in the community, like taking a group of nursing-home residents shopping, so [the teens] can understand the value of community service," he said. "To me, there's no better high than helping somebody."

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