“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” -Anne Frank
Every summer, the Youth Services Unit comes together for a single purpose: to run our Dreams & Futures (D&F) summer camp. This camp is focused solely on bringing together kids from the Mountain View community who are at risk of getting involved in gangs, drugs, alcohol or all of the above.
Since the summer of 1996, when the first pilot program was launched under the name of To the Hill and Beyond, the camp has advanced by leaps and bounds. The pilot focused on three main components: Academic, Athletic and Enrichment. In 1997, the program was renamed to Dreams & Futures with a curriculum based on teamwork, self-esteem, decision making and standing strong against drugs, alcohol and gangs.
Today, we work in cooperation with the City of Mountain View and the Whisman School District who help us identify at-risk children in the 4th through 7th grades. 2Children selected for D&F are those who often do not feel a part of the larger society. As these children move into their early adolescent years, which is the group identity stage, they will often choose street gangs as their peer group.
“How do we know this program is hitting our target audience?” asks Sgt. Ecdao who leads the Youth Services Unit in charge of D&F. “We know because not all of our kids make it. One of our graduates was charged with homicide. You can see others rolling around with gang members here in Mountain View. We can’t get through to them all.” But the Dreams & Futures team never gives up.
At the heart of D&F is to boost the self-esteem of at-risk children and provide them with the right skills and good opportunities. We want to assist them in developing a sense of community within the larger society so when they enter the group identity stage in their lives, they will make positive peer choices and disassociate themselves from gang involvement.
For the kids who attend D&F, they can expect their summer mornings to start at 9:00 with classes in writing and computer skills. Afternoons include a sport, like boxing camp, coached by police and community volunteers. Twice a week there are field trips to local museums and aquariums. Kids learn about leadership, cooperating with others and conflict resolution. They also meet, work and play with police officers encouraging a positive view of law enforcement.
A typical day for these children looks something like this:
- 0830 to 0900 Leader Prep Time
- 0900 to 0915 Daily Overview
- 0930 to 1030 Team Building/Boxing
- 1030 to 1130 Gang Class
- 1130 to 1230 Lunch
- 1230 to 1330 Sports
- 1330 to 1430 Art
- 1430 to 1445 Clean-up
- 1445 to 1500 Closing Comments
- 1500 to 1530 Leader Meeting
The three components (Academic, Athletic and Enrichment) were designed with very specific goals in mind. The Academic component was created to help the children see themselves in a positive education environment. This goal is achieved by utilizing local schools and businesses for academic sites and support. Teachers, officers and volunteers are teamed to provide a fun and educational experience emphasizing the child’s successes in order to build confidence and self-esteem.
“A lot of programs focus more on suppression,” says Officer Beraha of MVPD’s Gang Suppression Team and a D&F instructor. “We do that here, too, but it’s also about early intervention. We need to reach these kids before it gets to that point.”
The Athletic component was designed to help the children dream and to make their dreams attainable. Many children dream of becoming athletes, whether in high school, college or professionally. The athletic component exposes the children to the actual drills and skills utilized in organized sports, which gives them a foundation for furthering their dreams.
The enrichment portion of the program is designed to help the children make their dreams a reality. This component provides opportunity for the children, utilizing existing programs and opportunities in the community. We work with outside agencies with recruiting, scholarships and fee waivers for the children. These programs include academics, athletics, life enrichment and community service.
Program staff consists of MVPD employees, volunteers and older kids from the community who can serve as role models or even mentors in relationships that continue after D&F. Team leaders are often D&F graduates who return on their own time to give back to the program. During class, they will sit amongst the current year attendees and talk about their experiences, as well as help lead various group sessions.
But programs like D&F require more than assistance and support from MVPD. Over twenty-five local businesses and community-based organizations donate more than six hundred lunches, sports equipment, school supplies and money for the program.
The community’s generosity enables us to provide children with sports bags, uniforms and a backpack with school supplies. The local school district assists with the recruitment and transportation of the children to the D&F locations. They also provide the instructors and facilities for the academic component of the program.
While there are so many individuals and organizations in the Mountain View community who help make D&F a reality for our children, we could not support this program without the MVPD team. Year after year, this group leads the charge and makes what seems impossible, a reality for many Mountain View children.
A huge thanks to Sgt. Ecdao, who in the summer of 1996 launched Dreams & Futures as a result of his interaction with local gang members. As MVPD’s first gang officer, he saw the need for a better way to get through to these kids. Seventeen years later, D&F is still going strong!
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”-Les Brown
Stay tuned for Part II of Dreams & Futures series where we highlight a graduate of the program who returned to help others after almost succumbing to a life of gangs.
Are you interested in signing your child up for the next Dreams & Futures program? Contact School Resource Officer Ron Cooper at 650-903-6387.