Parks to Stay Open Late

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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Monday that eight city parks will stay open until midnight four days a week during the summer months. The mayor says he wants to provide a safe place for kids. KPCC's Frank Stoltze says that as part of the program, the city is employing young people to reach out to their peers.

Frank Stoltze: It's a good thing the city's extending the park hours, says Rachael Mendez. When she was a kid, she says, recreation programs always stopped at six in the evening.

Rachael Mendez: No. There was nothing like this growing up. There were sports. There were like karate, swim class, basketball. But at the same time, you know, it had to be cut short, because people were scared to walk back home. And even though I live down two blocks right here, it's even, it's still a threat go back home.

Stoltze: Nineteen-year-old Mendez is one of 80 young people who'll help run sports, arts, and counseling programs until midnight at eight parks in the city's most violent neighborhoods. She'll work in her own neighborhood, Glassell Park, recruiting kids to come to the park to stay out of trouble. She knows where she'll start.

Mendez: I want to get my little brother and my little sister involved in this so they know that there are positive things out there, so they don't get caught up with the community. Well, the bad side of it.

Stoltze: Mendez will earn between 2,600 and 3,000 dollars for the summer. Deputy Mayor Jeff Carr, who runs the city's gang prevention programs, told her and the other young workers why.

Jeff Carr: You weren't chosen by accident. You were chosen because somebody in your neighborhood believed in you. They believed that you have the power and the ability to help us transform these communities this summer and reduce the levels of violence. And we are counting on every single one of you to help us do that.

Stoltze: Channel 2 sportscaster Jim Hill sought to motivate the kids too.

Jim Hill: Don't ever let anyone tell you, you can't do it, right? Because someone told me one time, they said you know what Jim, you can't do that. You can't do it. And when I see them right now, you know what I do? (blows raspberry, audience laughs) All right?

Stoltze: The city maintains dozens of parks in violent areas. Many will still close at 6 o'clock this summer. But civic leaders concentrated spreading a message of hope. USC football coach Pete Carroll says it's important for kids to see people like him step out of their everyday lives and offer opportunities to them. Carroll often visits tough neighborhoods to talk with wayward kids and gang members.

Pete Carroll:I try to find the best somebody has to offer, and then I try to show them and then help them get to that. So it's exactly the same work. I'm not doing anything any different here than I do with USC and the football program.
Stoltze: Any frustrations that you have in this work?
Carroll: Every day. Every day that something goes awry again, it's frustrating, and to think that if we only would have reached out maybe only one more step, one reach farther, we might have saved somebody's life, or saved somebody from being hurt.

Stoltze: Shawn Hampton and Sean Price will be working in what's been dubbed the "Summer Night Lights" program. Both are 18 years old.

Shawn Hampton: This is a great opportunity. Glad I have the opportunity.
Sean Price: I'm gonna take advantage of it. I play basketball and help out other people instead of getting into trouble then, you know, acting in gangs and stuff like that.
Hampton: Yeah.
Price: So we see this opportunity and took it.
Stoltze: Is there a lot of trouble out there, like late afternoon and in the evening?
Price and Hampton: Yes.
Price: Too much, like to the point you can't even come outside in your own neighborhood. Can't come outside for a second.
Hampton: Because there's so much Mexican and black violence out here.
Stoltze: You mean gang violence?
Hampton: Yeah.
Price: Our cousins got shot like that. Wasn't gang banging, they still got shot.
Hampton: My best friend was killed in gang violence.

Stoltze: Price worries about his 14-year-old brother.

Price: I can watch over him, but I ain't going be everywhere he's at at all times. Something that I think about. And he's got a smart mouth. People around here don't like people like that. Smart mouth give them reason to shoot.

Stoltze: Price says he wants his little brother in the late night parks and recreation program, to get him, and his mouth, off the streets.