Trying to reach out to at-risk youths and decrease gang violence, Clark County’s Back on Track gang intervention program uses many tools to appeal to those who take part in the program.
Facilitators from the program recently purchased a new sports machine called VertiMax, used by professional athletes from the National Basketball Association and the National Football League.
“All these kids have an admiration for the athletes they see on (television),” said Melvin Ennis, the supervisor for Back on Track, run by Clark County’s Parks and Recreation department.
But training on the machine comes at a price.
Ennis, through the program, engages youths by providing workshops on social etiquette designed to increase educational achievement, adjust poor attitudes and hone skills to help youngsters find an alternative path to gang life.
If teens participate in the program, they get to also partake in the activities the coordinators have developed. The newest reward is the VertiMax, a strength resistance training machine.
Alex Bernal, a coordinator with the program, said it trains users to grow faster, stronger, jump higher and improve overall.
“Then they are too tired to get into trouble,” Bernal said.
The county developed the program after a string of gang violence started to plague the community about 20 years ago.
Ennis said the Southern Nevada Gang Task Force decided to partner with the Parks and Recreation department to offer intervention to prevent youths from falling into that lifestyle.
The program is open to participants ages 14 to 22 who are in gangs or live in gang-infested areas.
Some are brought in by parents after being referred to the program at community events, while others are brought in by parole or probation officers hoping to change youths’ lives.
While teaching youngsters life skills and giving them a chance to provide community service, the program has offered a place to go to those who attend.
Bernal said that on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the summer, the Late Nite Solutions program allowed teens to have a place to go from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. — hours many teens could otherwise be running the streets.
Instead, those who participate get involved with a variety of workshops and recreational activities.
Bernal said that the county also added a healthy lifestyle program to fight obesity.
Through the years, Bernal has listened to the teens to add amenities that appeal to them.
“We aren’t going to make them play violin if they aren’t interested in that,” Bernal said.
One activity he highlighted was a recording studio the program set up to help interested participants make music.
Throughout the years, Ennis has seen youths who have been through the program go on to do anything from being drafted by the NFL to work for President Barack Obama’s campaign.
Participating has also inspired youths to give back and become coordinators with the program. That’s what Bernal did after Back on Track changed his life.
Growing up in North Las Vegas, Bernal was an at-risk youth.
“I had really low expectations with my life,” he said. “I didn’t realize I had any potential.”
A father at 20, Bernal was desperate for direction.
“I met someone who asked if I ever thought about working with kids,” he said.
That man was Ennis, and he helped put Bernal on the right track.
Bernal started working with the prevention program about 14 years ago.
“I never realized this would become my passion,” he said.
He uses his experiences to relate to the youths.
“It’s that peer-to-peer accountability,” Ennis said. “At some point, an adult has let these kids down in their lives. They need someone they can identify with.”
Now, Bernal sees teens who were like him start to turn their lives around.
For more information, visit tinyurl.com/ccbackontrack.
Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at email@example.com or 702-387-5201.