Spotlight Nonprofit: Girls in crisis turn their lives around with special help from unique “gang”

LatinaLista — Girls are getting into trouble at younger ages than boys and they continue to be the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system. It’s a troubling trend that has everyone from law enforcement to community organizations shaking their heads as to how to help.

The first way to help, according to Los Angeles-based Girls & Gangs (G&G), is to see that these girls are not at-risk but “in-crisis.” It’s a realization that spurred the creation of this non-profit in 1999 and which since then serves 300 girls annually from the ages of 12-18.

According to one of the Board members of the organization: “Twenty percent of the girls we serve are pregnant or parenting, 40 percent have been victims of child sex trafficking and 100 percent have been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused. All of our girls are themselves or have a family member or close friend who is affiliated with a gang.”

As a result of their sad experiences, it wasn’t long before these girls found themselves on the wrong side of the law. From simple assault to armed robbery, these girls have served time in youth detention facilities or behind bars. If it weren’t for G&G, the odds that they would be repeat offenders is almost a given.

Girls & Gangs offers these girls the kind of emotional support they can’t find among their own friends and families, and gives the girls opportunities to create fresh starts for themselves by learning new life skills, envisioning a different future for themselves and mastering control of their emotions and their lives.

It becomes quickly apparent when watching the videos posted on the organization’s website that the girls feel safe and encouraged by the Girls & Gangs staff. One theme reiterated throughout the testimonials of the videotaped girls is that they can share their experiences without fear of being judged.

Since it first started, the non-profit has serviced over 3,000 girls. A combination of advocacy, classes, workshops and mentoring round out a program that has seen promising results:

  • While it takes the average youth four-six weeks to re-enroll in school after incarceration, as a direct result of the self-advocacy lessons taught during SMF, our girls re-enrolled an average of 2 weeks after release.
  • In FY10-11, none of the girls who completed our Anger Management Workshop Series have been re-arrested due to committing a violent act.
  • 99 percent of the girls who completed our Gender Specific services Program were not rearrested in FY10-11.
  • During FY10-11, three months after their release from camp and successful completion of any G&G program, 57 percent of our girls were either in school or employed; 13 percent were neither in school nor employed but had not been rearrested; 7 percent were rearrested and returned to camp; and 22 percent could not be contacted.

However, the non-profit isn’t just about getting girls through the rough times in their lives — but celebrating their accomplishments when they finally arrive at them. This year marks the second annual Youth Achievement Awards where special recognition will be given to chosen graduates of G&G who not only epitomize the goals of the program but its mission.

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