New Directions program may rescue kids from gangs, drugs

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.Yeah, Trevino knows the stare. It used to be his. He doesn’t have to imagine anything. The 44-year-old program director at New Directions for Youth in Van Nuys smiles, pulls the kid aside and gives him a little dose of reality. “Let me tell you what’s up, son,” he says. “I know that stare. It used to be mine. It doesn’t intimidate me.” His own story is a carbon copy of most of theirs. He ran with a gang, did drugs and alcohol, dealt a little on the side, spent time in county jail. He wasn’t raised in the Brady Bunch, either. His parents also separated and split on him. His mother left, but his gang never did. Bart Trevino knows the stare. He’s seen it a thousand times working with at-risk teenage kids in the San Fernando Valley. The dead eyes looking through you like you don’t exist. The body language that says, “Hey, man, you’ve got nothing to tell me so why don’t you just walk on down the street and find someone else to preach to?” The cold, hard looks warning you not to mess with them. They’ve seen things, been places you can’t even imagine. He was handed off to an extended, dysfunctional family growing up – from relative to relative until none of them had room for him anymore. So the county gave him a roof over his head until he turned 18. Trevino’s future was as clear as a beautiful, sunny day after the Santa Anas blow through L.A. He’d either be dead by 25 or in prison with his uncle and his cousins. “You’re trying to claim a street, die for a street that doesn’t even belong to you,” he tells the gang members. “Why?” So save the hard stare and let’s talk, kid, he says. Real talk, none of that street jive. What’s really going on? “Once they know where I’ve been, they can relate and open up,” Trevino says. “That’s when you find out that for most of them there’s nothing behind that stare but a lot of pain and hurt – a kid looking for a safe place and somebody who cares.” New Directions for Youth is that safe place where somebody cares. For the past 31 years in the Valley, thousands of at-risk kids heading toward possible early deaths or prison got a reprieve at this nonprofit organization. They met Bart Trevino or one of the other counselors at New Directions who know exactly what’s behind those hard stares. “They build a trust with you, and you know they’ve been in your shoes,” Roderick Warren says. “You realize, hey, if he can make it out, I can, too. That hits home.” Roderick was a kid born to two drug-addicted parents. The county took the kids away. One was adopted by another family, and two are still in foster care. “I was lucky,” he says. “I moved in with my aunt and her family.” He grew up around the gang life, but before he could be drawn into its web, he caught another lucky break. His worried aunt took him with her one day to volunteer at a place called New Directions for Youth. “It opened my eyes to what life and responsibility was all about,” Roderick says. “I learned that all people, no matter how they grew up, deserved a chance at life. New Directions gave me that chance.” In a few weeks, the 20-year-old junior at California State University, Northridge, majoring in business and financial services, will stand in front of 400 people in a ballroom at Skirball Cultural Center and repeat many of these same words at the organization’s 31st annual Spirit of Hope Awards Gala. Trevino and his wife, Linda, will be there. He owes his life to this woman he met at 25, when he was headed toward an early death or prison, he says. “Change your life or lose me,” she told him. He changed his life. He got that high school diploma he thought he’d never need and enrolled at UCLA, where he earned a degree as a licensed counselor in substance abuse. And now, Trevino will be sitting in a fancy ballroom surrounded by New Directions supporters and dozens of young men and women who have returned to volunteer at the program that saved their lives. Kids who gave Bart Trevino a stare he’s seen a thousand times. His old stare. For more information on New Directions for Youth, call executive director Monica Austin-Jackson at (818) 375-1000 or log on to Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more