ICAN provides positive programs designed to meet specific needs of at risk youth and their families in Chandler. Henry Salinas, founder of ICAN and Shelby Pedersen, Director of Resource Development for ICAN, talk about the programs and the organization’s approach to meeting the needs of the community.
José Cárdenas: ICAN is an organization chandler community who came face to face with issues of youth. gang violence and drugs in his own neighborhood. He decided to do something about it and give at risk kids a chance to succeed. Joining me to talk about ICAN is the founder of the organization, Henry Salinas. Also, here is Shelby Peterson, ICAN developer resources development. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte." Mr. Salinas, the personal experiences that we referenced in the introduction were very close, involved a family member. Tell us about that.
Henry Salinas: Well, we have had a family member who was 15 at the time in the late '70s. He was involved in gangs. And as usual, it's because older adults bring him into that and they just talk these kids into doing things that they're not supposed to be doing. They know they can talk to a young kid and make him do things by lying to them, telling them you can do this and nothing will happen to you. And -- wound up getting in a fight and a man died and he went to prison for 20 years at the age of 15. He was sentenced as an adult.
José Cárdenas: You want to try to avoid situations like that.
Henry Salinas: Yes, because I started seeing more and more of that and not only that but there was a lot of killing in my neighborhood. That didn't happen when I was young. It was getting to the point where family members that lived in the south side and the east side would beat up each other because they were from different barrios, different neighborhoods. I had to go out there and see what I could do to change that because I didn't want to see that. Too many young kids were dieing.
José Cárdenas: What was it that you decided you could do?
Henry Salinas: The only thing I could do was literally go out and walk the streets with them and so I would understand where they were coming from, what was going on. The only way I was going to understand that is for me to literally get out there with them and walk with them and try to get their trust to see what I could do to change it. What I see and what they asked was they needed someplace to go where they would feel safe and they didn't have no money to go to the clubs where they needed money. For example, one person would charge for a program maybe $20. But it doesn't sound like much or even $10 but when you've got three or four kids, that's $40 that the parent would have to do. A lot of these parents need that $40 for food.
José Cárdenas: As I understand it, part of the motivation for doing what you did is some of the kids were turned away from other clubs.
Henry Salinas: Yes, I was a volunteer for the boys and girls club and they have their policy and the rules was that kids could not go there dressed as gang bangers or just they were not allowed just because of the dress code that they had. So they would run away. These kids wanted to go play basketball and they were not allowed in. We were told they had to leave. So that's when I started seeing these are the kids who need the help.
José Cárdenas: I want to come back and talk more about how this evolved. In terms of what it is today, both providing opportunities for these kids to get together to have some fun but also, a strong educational component.
Shelby Peterson: Very much so. Since our founding in 1991, our organization has evolved significantly. We're providing programs in five different areas. The first is education.
José Cárdenas: And I know we've got some pictures we're going to put on the screen about some of these activities.
Shelby Peterson: Yeah, education is definitely one of the key components of our program. The homework help portion is essential because 4 of 10 kids are graduating without their GED in our community. Secondly is our health lifestyles, health living component. Providing these kids with healthy lifestyles information. Arming them with the tools they need to be successful adults. The third component is the job kills component, giving kids the skills, teenagers specifically the skills they need to be successful adults in the workforce. We also provide a life skills program that helps kids avoid the substances and the gang involvement that Henry has mentioned. It's very prolific in our neighborhood. And lastly we're working with parents and our community to educate about these issues so that their parents can be armed with the skills so you have that comprehensive change in the home.
José Cárdenas: There's some very, very young children involved.
Shelby Peterson: Age, five to 18 primarily.
José Cárdenas: And the largest majority are the teenagers?
Shelby Peterson: The largest majority are five to 12. They're the younger kids, but we have the opportunity to prevent some of those activities and that's part of their daily life.
José Cárdenas: The statistics are pretty sobering in terms of dropout rates and hunger, for example. Just give us a brief overview.
Shelby Peterson: Brief overview, 8 of 10 kids are living in households earning less than $25,000 a year. If you can imagine providing for your family on such meager income. 4 of 10 won't graduate high school by the time they're 25 or achieve their GED. That educational component obviously keeps them in that cycle of poverty. They're unable to grow in their careers or in their families. Another 2 of 10 will be gang affiliated by the age of 13, which is a very sobering fact. Simply too young to be faced with those realities.
José Cárdenas: We've got the website on the screen so people can get more information. Henry, quickly, tell us about the success you've had in involving the police because it wasn't always a good relationship between your organization and the police in Chandler.
Henry Salinas: No. The chief Harris, one of his men was a sergeant gang unit. At that time, he was on the board of directors.
José Cárdenas: And he was also the head of the gang unit. So it wasn't working well personally. He came around?
Henry Salinas: He came around. He was told by his boss that he had to be on the board. And he kind of didn't see it my way. What I wanted to show them, everyone, was that these kids are looking for some love and somebody who cares for them and talk to them.
José Cárdenas: And eventually, he came around and the relationship now --
Henry Salinas: It's amazing. It is amazing. They're doing what I would do with the staff that I can. And they're just amazing, how the community has come together and the police department, it's the greatest thing that we have.
José Cárdenas: We're almost out of time but the big news is the new building. Tell us a little bit about it.
Shelby Peterson: Yes. Our new building is opening very shortly and we are growing capacity to serve over 55% more youth. On a daily basis we're serving between 150 and 180 kids. In a 6,500-square-foot facility, very humble, very rundown, built in the '60s. So a new building is actually 20,000 square feet. It's very close to our current facility so it's serving the same kids. And we're expecting to serve 200 or more every day.
José Cárdenas: A much better facility.
Shelby Peterson: Yes.
José Cárdenas: Well, thank you both so much for coming in, Mr. Salinas, thank you for gracing us with your presence. Congratulations on your success.
José Cárdenas: That's our show for this Thursday night. From all of us here at "Horizonte," I'm José Cárdenas. Have a good evening
Henry Salinas:Founder, ICAN; Shelby Pedersen:Director of Resource Development, ICAN;