Pubdate: Wed, 06 Sep 2017
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Nick Eagland
Page: A9


The (earlier on) that they become attached to ... role models and
mentors, the greater the resiliency.

As preteens march off to elementary schools in Surrey this week, a
group of elder peers is making plans to steer them away from the
deadly path to gang life.

Yo Bro | Yo Girl, a program for youth at risk, is expanding to protect
children as young as 11 from entering a violent lifestyle that is
claiming the lives of young men on Surrey's streets.

This year, for the first time, the program will run in 12 Surrey
elementary schools while expanding to 12 secondary schools, up from 10
last year.

"The evidence currently coming out is showing that these kids are
engaging in illicit behaviour at a very, very young age," said Joe
Calendino, a former "full-patch" Hells Angel who founded the program
in 2009 with his wife, Brenda.

While several programs exist for youth already involved in gangs, Yo
Bro | Yo Girl is focused on early intervention and prevention,
Calendino said. The non-profit provides mentorship and helps foster a
sense of belonging in kids who are lacking a peer group, experimenting
with drugs or who have an older brother or cousin involved in the drug

Often, they're a student who is a "frequent flyer to the principal's
office," said Calendino. "That's where we go in and roll up our sleeves."

Program facilitator Ary Azez followed a group of friends into the
program when he was 15 after watching other peers turn to drugs and

This year, he'll help lead the expansion into Grades 5, 6 and 7, where
he hopes to be a positive influence during the younger students'
formative years.

"We sort of shut down that path and that option of going into drugs
and gangs," he said. "That's our main goal."

Azez said a typical weekly meeting with youth involves "hanging out
and having a good time," playing sports and engaging in casual
conversation. Leaders aim to be role models, forming relationships
with participants and making themselves available to them when they
have questions or concerns.

They keep an eye out for shifts in a youth's attitude or behaviour,
asking "Hey, are you OK?" and then assessing how to proceed based on
their individual needs, Azez said.

"At the end of they day, they don't want to be lectured or told
they're wrong," he said.

Last spring, the City of Surrey announced $150,000 in funding for Yo
Bro | Yo Girl over three years, with the goal of expanding the program
into elementary schools and reaching more youth.

Calendino said there may be more than 1,600 participants in the
program this year, up from 900 in 2016.

At the time of the funding announcement, Mayor Linda Hepner said the
city understood how such early interventions play a direct role in the
city's public safety strategy.

Rob Rai, director of school and community connections for the Surrey
School District, said focusing on prevention is a better use of
resources than struggling to pull students from gang life after
they've already become entrenched.

"The earlier on in life that they become attached to prosocial
recreation, peers and role models and mentors, the greater the
resiliency that they have," Rai said.

The expansion comes as Surrey RCMP battle an ongoing, drug-related
street war. Officers have responded to more than two dozen shootings
so far this year and many have involved men in their late teens and
early 20s. Victims of these often-brazen attacks have refused to
co-operate with investigators.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt