Peace to Prosperity
CIS has been in the business of improving public safety for over 19 years. As a world champion in martial arts and kickboxing, CIS Executive Director, Blinky Rodriguez has a long history of working with youth. The work became personal in 1990 when Blinky himself fell victim to gang violence. Sonny, his 16-year-old son was killed in a drive-by shooting. In court, Blinky met the three killers face-to-face, not for retribution, but to forgive them. Through a series of meetings, he subsequently negotiated a truce, called The Valley Unity Peace Treaty, which was signed by over 75 gangs with over 1,000 members. The treaty successfully reduced gang-related deaths from 62 to 2 in the first year. The peace treaty project became CIS San Fernando Valley, a non-profit organization in 1994. Blinky approached long-time friend Bobby Arias, then Southwest Regional Director for Communities In Schools, Inc. and solicited his assistance in developing an “integrated service delivery approach” for gang youth. Since the tragedy of Sonny’s death, Blinky and Bobby have dedicated their lives to improve and promote public safety by ending youth and gang violence and helping young people transform their lives. CIS is one of the first organizations in LA to deliver services exclusively to gang-involved and gang-oriented youth and young adults within a cohesive, integrated, wrap-around service delivery strategy aimed at addressing root causes. These wrap-around services integrate violence prevention, gang intervention, parenting, mentoring, intensive case management, recreation/sports, therapeutic/mental health counseling, life skills and job development based on the individual needs of each client. A critical element within our model is engaging clients in sporting events. These sporting events displace hostility and violence and have proven to be some of the most effective CIS communal public safety intervention activities. They lead to improved quality of life and restoration of community peace, togetherness and tranquility. The idea we propose to LA2050 to improve public safety is our “CIS GAMES FOR PEACE”. The goal of CIS GAMES FOR PEACE is to showcase how CIS can prevent violence through well designed and coordinated sporting events. For example, a flag football game back in 1993 between rival gang members was the pivotal event that helped CIS solidify the historic Valley Unity Peace Treaty. This was a groundbreaking, paradigm busting, first of its kind phenomenon in the realm of peacekeeping in LA. That original football game morphed into a world renowned blueprint for peace acknowledged by the United Nations. CIS has since then conducted 252 sporting events that bring together potential enemies, reduce friction, encourages harmonious communication and prevent violence. Our CIS GAMES FOR PEACE would include a series of basketball, handball, softball and football events. We will conduct a minimum of 25 events each year partnering with Dept. of Recreation & Parks, LAPD and other law enforcement agencies and elected officials to ensure ongoing community safety. In addition, we would make boxing instruction available to this underserved population through our CIS Heart of Champions Boxing Academy. This instruction would take place at a local boxing gym where participants will receive professional boxing instruction. The Academy will provide a positive alternative to gang life for participants and significantly enhance their health, physical fitness and abilities, sense of pride, self-worth, cooperativeness and respect for others. We believe that participation in this program will have profound impact on our youth. Academy youth will be required to take our anger management/mediation class as a pre-requisite to participate in the academy. The curriculum will consist of beginning boxing and kickboxing principles. Those who wish will be allowed to participate in the Golden Gloves program facilitated by the gym. The program will provided participants with a Heart of Champions membership, T-shirt, mouthpiece and hand wraps. We feel this idea will impact public safety by reducing crime and while also improving health. Crime rates are at historic lows throughout the county. Still, the experience of crime and perceptions of safety vary widely along racial and socioeconomic lines. Areas of concentrated poverty tend to have higher rates of violent crime. By participating in CIS GAMES FOR PEACE, youth and young adults will be engaged in positive activities and away from crime. As noted by LA2050, safety and security is “a core element for the well-being of individuals and society as a whole.”2Crime can lead to loss of life and property; it has detrimental physical and mental health consequences; it can reduce economic productivity; and, most detrimentally, it creates a pervasive feeling of vulnerability. By participating in CIS GAMES FOR PEACE, youth and young adults will have ready access to mobile health screening and other services.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Numerous national and international leaders including Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Dr. Jane Goodall, Al Gore and Barbara Boxer have recognized the work of Blinky and CIS. CIS violence prevention and intervention practices have been replicated in the USA, Germany, Tanzania, England and South Africa. In 1998, Blinky received the Medaille d’Excellence, presented in Switzerland to only 14 people worldwide in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Blinky has earned over eighty-three awards for his work. He was selected by LA Mayor James Hahn, A&E Television and their Biography series as a 2002 Biography Community Hero for his service to LA. Blinky and the staff of CIS were featured in the November 2002 Reader's Digest article on "Everyday Heroes". In 2003, he received the Angel of Peace Award from the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater LA, The SFV Interfaith Council Human Relations Award, Simon Bolivar Liberty Award and was appointed by Mayor Hahn to The Commission for Children, Youth & Their Families. The following is a sample of our achievements:
Helped reduce gang-related deaths from 62 to 2 in one year
Connected over 1300 youths with mentors
Helped place 554 people in jobs
Helped place 220 people in college
Conducted over 252 Sports Events with over 11,000 participants
Conducted over 106 Peace Rallies/Community Events with over 50,000 attendees
The Public Safety and peacekeeping efforts of CIS were the subject of a 1999 study, funded by the California State Legislature under AB 2650. Conducted by Cal State University at Northridge, it found the peace treaty to be effective in demonstrating peacekeeping strategies and recommended that it be replicated statewide. CIS has been named the “model” program for gang intervention by the State of California, LA County and the City of LA.
A most significant achievement occurred in 2012. After a journey that exceeded eleven years, CIS celebrated the grand opening of our Job Training & Opportunity Center on October 22, 2012. The Center has been a dream since 2001 when CIS first realized the positive impact that having a job had on helping youth continue their education and avoid violence. The Center’s construction was funded by a partnership between the County of Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and the U. S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Center represents an unprecedented joint partnership between CIS and LA County Probation. Under a ten-year rent-free lease, the brand new CIS Job Training & Opportunity Center sits on County land and houses job training, educational and other support services programs. County Probation officers share the facility with CIS to serve probationary youth, dropouts and their families. CIS will maximize the Probation partnership and relationships to ensure job readiness service delivery for participants is effective, well coordinated and well managed.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
Partners will be LAPD, United Methodist Church, USC, UCLA, CSUN, Mission College and xx Boxing Gym. CIS now uses the church gym to provide services to gang members in a safe setting who otherwise would not be able to congregate because of LAPD gang injunctions. Activities include basketball tournaments for youth, zumba classes and self improvement workshops for mothers and swap meets for community bargain hunting at the site. USC, UCLA, CSUN and Cal State LA will provide interns as mentors/tutors for gang youth. Mission College will provide job training, job placement, GED and other educational services.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
CIS has successfully demonstrated that it can deliver results. CIS became the subject of a study, funded in 1999 by the California State Legislature conducted by Cal State University at Northridge. Over 1,200 people were interviewed during the CSUN evaluation. Among the interviewees were kids, gang members, teachers, probation officers, parents, police officers and local citizens. The following is a sample of the responses:
• “They (CIS) are there day and night; any time…it’s had a tremendous positive impact.”
• “For them (the youth) to be part of the program, it makes them feel wanted, loved and understood. It makes the community feel more trust.”
• “Now, you don’t have to worry as much. You can feel comfortable in the park. People have birthday parties in the parks now. You couldn’t do that before-not and feel safe.”
• “CIS teaches kids how to work their way up. It gives them self-confidence to get a job, teaches them about expectation on the job, teaches them how to make a living and has helped kids get jobs, especially through Local 300.”
More recently a five year evaluation of CIS conducted by one of the nation’s foremost social science evaluations firms, ICF International from Fairfax Virginia, showed:
• The CIS Model yields substantive improvements in school and student level outcomes on credit completion, academics and attendance and is unique in among other dropout prevention programs in reducing dropout and increasing graduation rates.
• Students that receive CIS case management services successfully navigate the critical 6th to 9th grade transition better than those students that do not receive CIS services.
• Student outcomes were significantly better for those who received CIS case-management services for two and three years, rather than just one year, proving that the long term effects of sustained engagement with CIS were substantial.
• The greatest outcomes for schools and students resulted from CIS’s strong business practices, strong CIS leadership and strong school administration and teacher participation.
• the CIS Model resulted in the strongest reduction in dropout rates of over 1600 existing fully scaled dropout prevention program evaluated by ICF
CIS was evaluated over three years (2005-2008) by Dr. Jorja Leap, PH.D. and a team from the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA School of Public Policy funded by the California Wellness Foundation. It showed “CIS has demonstrated substantive impact on the lives of the youth it works to serve. Further, the program has shown to be a steadying force in their lives as well as a source of support in a community that has few such resources available to its families.” Under LA2050, we will have specialized data collected and analyzed by another UCLA team. This evaluation team will write a comprehensive analysis of the results and the report will assess the effectiveness of our work; analyze Process data, numbers of clients, units of service and evidence of intended outcomes.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Our CIS GAMES FOR PEACE project would benefit Los Angeles in a number of ways. Specifically, our CIS GAMES FOR PEACE participants come from communities with some of the lowest income and high crime areas in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. They face a relentless assault of negative influences that often result in drug abuse, violence, teen pregnancy, poor academic performance, even death. By participating in CIS GAMES FOR PEACE, youth and young adults will develop the skills, abilities, relationships and associations necessary to foster self-esteem, persistence, perseverance and positive attitudes to overcome negative influences.
Next, the project follows evidence-based models already proven to be effective. Two significant studies, Yin (1986) and Spergel (1989) evaluated strategies typically used to deal with gangs and delinquency. Both studies found that the most effective were:
• Community Organization- comprehensive interagency cooperation and community cohesion among grass roots organizations, law enforcement agencies along with job development
• Providing Alternative Opportunities-other activities such as sports, recreation, youth service, job training and placement
CIS services and our Wrap-around service delivery strategy are in line with the “Spergel Model” and incorporate all elements of the model.
Our special connection with youth and sports has been long, consistent and one of the most highly successful elements of the public safety methodology. The 252 baseball, softball, football, basketball and soccer games and tournaments that CIS has conducted have been highly effective tools in enhancing communication, reducing violence and improving the quality of life for all members of the community. The LA Times February 20, 1994 praised the football game that marked the 110th day of the Valley Unity Peace Treaty. Since then, scores of newspaper articles have documented the importance of these sporting events in helping youth avoid gangs and violence. In 2004, CIS hosted the first ever softball game between LA County Probation Gang Unit Officers and former/current gang members to enhance communication and improve relationships. In August 2005, CIS in partnership with the LAPD, hosted the 5th Annual LAPD Celebrity Swing-A-Thon.
The most significant and fundamental benefit to LA is that youth and individuals formally considered as “throw-away” are re-energized with hope and can contribute positively to our society. These are individuals that others have “given up on” and who have been called the “lepers” of society. They are gang-involved or gang oriented youth and young adults who, despite their past behaviors, have demonstrated a sincere willingness to turn their lives around and become productive members of society. LA or any city and community can benefit when souls, spirits and minds are uplifted and redirected toward positive action.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Gang Violence is a plague that potentially threatens the health of every man, woman and child throughout Los Angeles on a daily basis. Victims can be rich, poor or innocent bystanders of any race or age. You or someone you know could be exposed and afflicted at any time, either at home or away from home. This plague takes rank with other significant Public Safety issues that result in death and destruction within in our communities.
Have you ever heard a gunshot in your neighborhood, in your home? Has your child? Please stop for a minute and think about it. Close your eyes and put yourself there. We believe that in 2050 the success in Public Safety would look like a community where none of us ever has to endure that experience.
We believe we can make this vision become a reality through communal public safety intervention activities that will ultimately lead to improved quality of life and restoration of community peace, togetherness and tranquility.
Between 2007 and 2008, US Congressman Tony Cardenas, (then an LA City Councilman) worked with CIS and other community stakeholders to draft public policy regarding juvenile justice, gang violence and other public safety issues. The result was a Community-Based Gang Intervention Model that provides a blueprint for the infrastructure to adequately understand gang intervention and create the appropriate mechanisms and systems to support and expand the field of gang intervention. The Model combines proactive and reactive approaches to improve the quality of life of communities through reducing violence and providing integrated human services.
Community-based gang intervention provides specialized crisis intervention as well as ongoing attention and maintenance by skilled intervention specialists who have personal knowledge, understanding, and experience of gang life and thereby offer the greatest likelihood for gaining, building, and maintaining trust and confidence among active and former gang members.
This two-prong approach provides hardcore, specialized, street-based mediation and mitigation to stop or prevent violence between gangs and the concurrent redirection of individual gang members and their families in ways that bring progress to themselves and their communities.
Prong 1 is Hardcore, Specialized Street and Detention/Prison-Based Services that provide for the deployment of peacemakers on the streets, saving lives by quelling rumors, preventing and mediating conflicts, and responding to crises. Prong 2 is Gang-Responsive/Specific Individual & Family Services that deliver rehabilitative services to gang-involved and affiliated individuals, families, and communities.
CIS is a community-based organization that is in the business of saving lives. Our work using the two-prong Model results in enhanced public safety rather than fear and apprehension, an environment of support rather than rejection and a new population of young people re-energized with self-confidence, self-esteem and future.