Keeping Kids Out of Gangs

By: Nichole Vrsansky
By: Nichole Vrsansky

Tuesday the Rockford School Board will decide whether to expel 10 students for alleged gang activity. It's not an uncommon occurrence. Rockford police say gangs have a strong presence in our area, but the community is fighting back.

The writing is on the wall and the signs are all around us:

"Gang activity in Rockford is strong," says Rockford Police Deputy Chief Dominic Iasparro.

Iasparro says gang activity is a serious problem in our area and he says gangs have one common denominator: criminal activity, but combating the problem he says is difficult:

"I think there's an excitement about it for younger people, through associations, perhaps through relatives who are in gangs and maybe bring them along," says Iasparro.

But a wide variety of after school programs like 21st Century Learning in our community are hoping to turn that excitement toward positive activities like school and sports.

"Our primary goal or mission is to develop core values. We teach them honesty, responsibility and respect," says CEO of the Rockford YMCA, Wray Howard.

These kids may still be exposed to gangs, but Howard says being in these programs will help them make the right decision in those situations.

“If an adult takes a positive interest in them, their wanting to go along with the crowd and get excitement from a gang is less likely to influence them," says Howard.

"This is positive attention that will lead kids to have positive lives. When they know all that's available to them in the world out there, they don't have to go looking for trouble," says Director of Youth Programs Mike Donaldson.

Counselors at the YMCA say often times kids in their programs have better attendance and get better grades in school within the first year of being involved.


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