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Investing in Porterville's youth
Ingrid Project focuses on at-risk students
Wanting to make a difference in turning an at-risk youth’s life around, a local activist teamed with Mothers United Against Gang Violence to form The Ingrid Project.
The unique program utlizes an entire community in helping young students succeed by becoming active in sports, band and other extra curricular programs.
“You’ve heard the old ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” said David Gong. “The local gang problem shouldn’t be the problem of City Council. It’s going to take a village — the entire community of Porterville — to take care of this.”
That’s where the Ingrid Project — named after Ingrid Coronell, a 17 year old Granite Hills High School student and part of a juvenile probation crew, who died in August 2011 when a Tulare County Probation Department van she was riding in collided with a pickup truck, killing its driver and two of nine people in the van.
Coronell, Gong said, was an honor-roll student involved in sports. She was bullied for three years and when she defended herself, she ended up on a youth program.
But because she was such a positive student, Gong said he wanted to honor her memory.
The Ingrid Project will help potential future gang members turn to sports, band, cheer leading and other extra curricular programs.
“This program will change the dynamics of a family,” Gong said. “Every man, woman and child in Porterville can help make a difference in the life of an at-risk child.”
The project involves identifying high at-risk students from local school districts who are interested in joining sports, band, cheer leading or other school-related activity.
“We’re trying to help level the playing field,” Gong said. “By offering these options, their lives will change. Families will change.”
Gong said he was approached by Mothers United Against Gang Violence a year ago when he was running for Porterville City Council.
“When they were telling me their stories about losing their children to gangs, I knew I had to do something,” he said. “This is going to be the flagship of anti-gang programs for the community.”
Gong said he applauds the town’s ‘STEP UP’ program but what makes the Ingrid Project different are statistics.
“You will know where these kids are and what they are active in,” he said. “We don’t want to see these kids running in the street, we want to see them running down the sidelines of a football field.”
After meeting with school officials, Gong said he learned potential problems begin when the students are usually in fourth or fifth grade.
But not wanting to leave any age out, Gong decided to include students from fourth grade to 12th grade.
“Sports changes a kid. It gives them confidence and changes who they hang out with,” Gong said. “They’ll go from hanging out with the crowd that does nothing to hanging out with the popular kids. We want the kids to stay busy. We want to put instruments in their hand, not a spray can.”
Social clubs, families, businesses, individuals and school clubs can all help by sponsoring a child which has been identified by the school district.
The approximate cost per child will be between $300 and $500 a year — the cost of sports, cheer or band uniforms and equipment, and any associated fees.
Linda Hinojosa, vice president of the Mothers United group, said the non-profit organization will serve as liaison with the schools.
After the school districts identify potential students, the Mothers United will began matching students with potential sponsors.
Gong said he plans to start with as many as 100 students and believes families, the students’ and those sponsoring a child, will begin flocking to sporting activities to watch their child play.
“We’re looking for sponsors, churches, individual families, groups and school clubs,” he said.
Hinojosa said certain guidelines are in place, including requiring students to maintain a 2.5 grade point average, to remain in the program. If rules are not adhered to, and grades fail, the student is out of the program, she said.
“There has to be consequences,” Hinojosa said. “Once we pick the kids, we’ll meet with the families. We’re talking to a lot of individual families and letting them know we want the kids to have a new choice.”
Students whose families previously could not afford to pay for sports or cheer leading, will have the opportunity to participate in such sports, through the program.
“In return, they will also be required to do some community service hours. We’re teaching them to be socially concerned, be good role models and make a positive impact on the city,” Gong added. “The gang problem is at every school. But I know a lot of coaches who have said they’ve seen kids who go out for sports change.”
The Ingrid Project will begin with students from Alta Vista Elementary School District, Gong said, but he hopes to extend the program to all local districts.
“We welcome all suggestions. Just because it starts with us, in the end, it is the entire community who solves these problems,” Gong said. “I believe this is the most successful project ever put together, not because of me but because of the community as a whole.”
For information on donating towards the project, call Linda Hinojosa at 359-9476; for sponsorship information, call Gong at 756-0429.