| Faith communities embrace gang prevention effort
Paul Figueroa was born and raised in Oakland's St. Elizabeth Parish.
"Growing up, I felt pressures of gangs," he said. "I was raised by Franciscans and Dominicans. There's a higher calling to serve the community, to go out of your way to be a positive influence, not just for those close to you, but in the world."
It was at St. Elizabeth School, he said, that he first dreamed of serving the community as a police officer. As a captain who commands the Internal Affairs unit of the Oakland Police Department, he returned to the school last month to kick off the Gang Prevention Program he has championed.
"I want to help people facing some of the pressures I went through," he said.
Sessions are conducted in Spanish for parents and in English for students. California Youth Outreach, employing speakers who are former gang members themselves, provides participants with information on how to avoid gang life. At St. Elizabeth, 150 parents and 100 students, in separate sessions, were trained in gang prevention techniques.
The Oakland Police Foundation has provided funds to make presentations to parents and students in Oakland parishes, including St, Louis Bertrand, St. Jarlath and St. Patrick, as well as students at St. Martin de Porres School.
Geoffrey Collins, president of the board of the Oakland Police Foundation, said his group is working with pastors and Oakland Community Organizing (OCO) to establish gang prevention as a parish ministry.
"It doesn't do any good to give out this information and that's the end of it," he said.
He said he envisions the program growing beyond Oakland's borders. " It's simple," he said, "cops to kids, through faith-based community.
Its cost, too, is modest, Collins said. The cost to bring the program to four parishes has been $2,100.
"Ultimately, we will have trained 500 parents," he said.