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COAST, CENTRAL, AND NORTHWEST CITIES : WESTMINSTER

Youth Wins Grant to Lead Peace Troops

The shooting of a neighborhood youth prompted Arthur Gomez to form a group for teens promoting nonviolence.

May 31, 2000|ALEX MURASHKO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Arthur Gomez wants the violence to stop. For Gomez, the shooting death of a young person in his Westminster neighborhood two years ago hit too close to home. Something had to be done.

Having been a member of the Peacemakers at Work club at Westminster High School and already a state certified mediator, Gomez began working on a plan to spread the message of nonviolence to Westminster youth.

Last year and again in February, the Westminster High graduate went to Washington to learn more about conflict resolution from a group called YouthVision. The 2-year-old group, which is a collaboration of five organizations, gives grants to young people who have a plan for peace in their communities.

Gomez, 22, presented his vision and received a grant for a project and group he has named Westminster Ambassadors of Peace.

Gomez held the group's first meeting Friday, with plans for a seminar and workshop on domestic violence and racial intolerance.

Gomez had expected about 12 Westminster High students to meet at the school's teachers lounge and hear 68th District State Assembly candidate Tina Laine talk on the subjects.

Unfortunately, the meeting was planned for the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend and only one student showed up. For Gomez, the failed meeting may have been bad timing, but he is undeterred and ready to move on. YouthVision Director Marge Baker said groups like the Westminster Ambassadors of Peace, which are supported by the national organization, have a "built-in self-evaluation process" and Gomez will not fail.

"He will go back to the drawing boards," Baker said. "He will figure it out and he will make it happen."

Young people nationwide, who have formed similar groups, are driven by seeing their own power make a difference in the world, she said. And Gomez is no exception.

"When the student was killed right here in my neighborhood, I asked myself 'What can I do?' " Gomez said. "I want to give back to the community."

Vandai Le, 17, the student who attended, said she was tired of young people being portrayed as troublemakers. She became interested in the group after meeting Gomez at the Peacemakers at Work club.

"A few years ago, there was a lot of fighting in the area," Le said. "We just don't want to present ourselves as a group of violent teens."

Baker said the Washington-based YouthVision began as an essay contest on conflict resolution sponsored by an earlier, smaller version of the organization and has evolved.

"The kids inspired us," Baker said.

The theory behind YouthVision is that young people need to "understand where conflict comes from," she added.

"We want to create an environment where young people can find out what's driving the conflict and in what ways can it be resolved," she said.

Gomez, who plans to have a community training program each month, has bigger plans for the next meeting. It will be at the Huntington Hilton, he said.

The telephone number for Westminster Ambassadors of Peace is (714) 373-9555.

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Alex Murashko can be reached at (714) 966-5974.

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