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SECURE website charts path for gang awareness, pro-active youth resources

 

Build it and they will come. Kevin Costner said those words in the modern film classic, Field of Dreams.

In Clarksville, a dedicated group of citizens, social activists and area ministers gathered together to build a program and tonight, when the doors finally opened, the people came.

S.E.C.U.R.E., the acronym for Safe and Effective Community Using Resources for Empowerment, is the brainchild of Pastor Tommy Vallejos, director of Hispanic Outreach for Progress and Education (HOPE) and former gang member.

Vallejos bears the internal and external scars of gang life: the 20+ year old tattoos he wants to strip from his skin and the ever-present heartfelt loss of more than 20 family members and friends to gang violence.

Vallejos was the perfect answer to a difficult problem.

“When the kids come here, they have to talk to me first. They have to listen. And we have a lot for them to do,” Vallejos said.

Ivan Roberts (l) receives an award from Terry McMoore (c) for creating the S.E.C.U.R.E. program name as pastor Tommy Vallejos looks on.

Congressman Joe Pitts spoke to the group via videotaped statement, but no other elected officials or school administrators attended this opening.

A video used to be embedded here but the service that it was hosted on has shut down.

With a sizable committee of concerned volunteers, Vallejos took a hard look at the problem and decided to find a way to solve it. His committee worked relentlessly to address gang-related issues, and foster gang awareness and prevention among the city’s youth.They developed a program that provides alternatives to gangs and a state-of-the-art website overflowing with information for parents, teachers, civic leaders and the community at large.

Many leaders of SECURE were on hand to view the results of their work: Terry McMoore of the Urban Resource Center, Jimmie Gardner of the NAACP, Rev. Patrick Smith of St. John’s Church, Linda Darnell of the MWCHC (a clinic scheduled to open on Dover Road in January), a group of young boys and girls who have been training in a gym on this site for the past month, and several dozen unheralded advocates for Clarksville youth and families. People who want to make a difference, one child at time, but time and time again.

The guests included two officers from the Clarksville Police Department (above, right) attended in uniform, but declined to comment on the program prior to the presentation.

They are all people who, like Vallejos, have a vision for Clarksville that includes redefining the priorities of the area and addressing issues that can make or break the city’s youth.

“We have the programs. We have the solutions. We are asking the community to respond, to quit complaining and do something,” Vallejos said, adding that SECURE has the tools for change. “We are teaching kids how to release their anger in a positive way.” He cited programs such as the new Clarksville Police Department Football League as a “terrific” option for city youth.

One of the projects Vallejos is attempting to address is transportation. Currently, youngsters are transported to the site by volunteers; he is hoping that his organization can find a van or even an old school bus that can be put into use as a shuttle bus to bring participants to the program. In a city as large and widespread as Clarksville, that has been a challenge.

In addressing a room full of attentive listeners, Vallejos worked through a detailed presentation of the new SECURE website, itemizing its comprehensive and exceptionally detailed information, resources and links.

On the SECURE website, parents can find a list of behaviors and dress that have gang ties, pictures of the hand signals used by gangs, and most importantly, tips on how to become involved and stayed involved in the children’s lives and be a positive influence.

Among the warning signs of possible gang interest/activities that can tip off an observant parent: unusual interest in one or two colors or a specific logo, unusual hand signals, unexplained physical injuries, unexplained cash, increase in negative behavior (skipping school, staying out late, signs of drug use, using gang ‘slang,’ or begins to carry a weapon.

The site addresses the issue of Graffiti, up to and including city ordinances on that issue. Vallejos is strong on eliminating graffiti and “not giving face” to the gangs that tag and deface property.

The site offers a section with advice to teachers on how to spot potential problems in the early stages and offers positive actions to deter gang activities.

SECURE supports activities such as the Neighborhood Watch Program, which Vallejos said is underused and suffering from neglect and disinterest. SECURE programs also address issues of dating, teen violence, date rape and issues of sexual violence which may have roots in gang activities. In the various sections on this site, browsers can find and virtual encyclopedia not just of gang-related information but community resources and churches who have stepped up to the plate to work for Clarksville’s youngest citizens.

Vallejos knows gangs, and in his role as a minister with a working knowledge of gangs and gang activity, he saw an opportunity to effect social change and provide alternatives to gangs activities; he set out to create a resource by which young people and the community at large to fight back using pro-active alternatives and disperse their effervescent energy through physical training in the martial arts and boxing.

Pastor John Renken of Xtreme Ministries on Fort Campbell Boulevard, where the SECURE website was unveiled, sees the physical training at his facility as a way to harness and channel the high energy levels of young men and women, teaching them fitness and fighting within a positive construct, with discipline, sound motivations and strong healthy attitudes.

To explore the SECURE website, go the www.clarksvillesecure.com


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