Article submitted by Fatima Shakil, County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency, North County Region
During his time as a Gang Suppression Officer at the City of Oceanside Police Department, Lieutenant Taurino Valdovinos realized that while enforcement and regulation were important for community safety, focusing on prevention and intervention could make the greatest impact in the community and lives of youth. Lt. Valdovinos was inspired to develop a mentorship program when he encountered an adolescent who had chosen to turn his life around after learning about Lt. Valdovinos’ own experiences of growing up as an at-risk youth in Oceanside.
Through Lt. Valdovinos' leadership, the Oceanside Youth Partnership program was officially launched by the Oceanside Police Department on March 1st, 2018. The 12-week program aims to introduce teens to a variety of positive experiences and encourages them to build rapport with neighborhood police officers. The program builds upon the San Diego County Sheriff’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T. program.
“We want the community to know that we are just people," explained Lt. Valdovinos. "And the best way to do that is to take off our uniform and just interact with these kids. My biggest goal is to offer these kids a different perspective of what police are like and to build that personal relationship so that if they do have an issue, they feel comfortable enough to reach out to us for guidance and support.”
A team of police officers serve as mentors to at-risk teens in groups of five or fewer during 2-hour weekly sessions consisting of physical fitness and team building activities. The sessions also teach the program’s core values of personal responsibility, ethics, service, mental strength, perseverance, education and trustworthiness. In order to help ensure attendance, the program also incorporates rides to and from session locations.
Additionally, the youth interact with guest speakers. “We have guest speakers, whether it is reformed gang members or successful people in the community that made a good life out of nothing; someone that the youth can look up to as an example,” explained Lt. Valdovinos.
The Oceanside Youth Project also offers engaging and interactive learning experiences through field trips, including visits to California State University, San Marcos, Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, and the Medical Examiner’s Office. Additionally, Lt. Valdovinos hopes to bring participants to fun enrichment activities in the surrounding Oceanside area.
The program recruits young individuals through a referral-based system, in partnership with local school districts and youth development programs. Officers at the Oceanside Police Department set up interviews with each referral and their parents to ensure each participant has the support of their parents. The program has received an overwhelming response by the community so far, with over 30 referrals submitted for only 15 available spots.
“We want parents to be involved as much as possible,” stated Lt. Valdovinos. “It really shows how much a program like this is needed in Oceanside.”
“Our goal is to improve the outlook of these kids on school and their outlook on life, as well as their perception of the police. Ultimately, we want to build personal relationships with these kids and to me, the last one is the biggest one. Ten years from now I want them to be able to look back and say, I remember Lt. Valdovinos, he made a positive impact on my life.”
Some of the youth have already seen a change in their lives and their thinking, stating that they have already learned through the Oceanside Youth Partnership program “that it’s never too late to change.” One participant also said that the program has “helped me stay out of trouble. I think it helped all of us stay out of trouble.”
To learn more about City of Oceanside’s Youth Mentorship Program and other initiatives, visit http://www.ci.oceanside.ca.us/gov/police/default.asp, https://www.facebook.com/CityofOceanside/.