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State grant saves afterschool haven

April 1, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A popular afterschool program won't have to shut its doors thanks to a just-announced state grant. Program directors got the good news Wednesday as they press their efforts to keep at-risk kids from joining gangs.Maritza Coyaco spends every day after school at a kids center in Santa Ana.

"I like doing spin class because it's fun," Maritza Coyaco, a student at Andrew Jackson Elementary School.

The Santa Ana Police Athletic and Activities League (PAAL) gives more than 100 inner-city kids a place to go after class.

"We have to do our homework first, then read for 20 minutes," said 10-year-old student Brian Aguayo.

Santa Ana Police Officer Tom Serafin, or "Officer Tom," as he's known to the students, helps them with homework and keeps them active.

"They work out, they feel better about themselves, they go into the classroom, they've got that little bit of burst of energy that they had taken care of and now they can sit down and concentrate," said Officer Serafin.

"It's helped me a lot because I've been going every day," said student Gerardo Ramirez, 10. "I've been losing a little more, I've been losing weight."

The program was about to end until the state came forward with a $400,000 grant to the city. Authorities say part of that grant would go to target hardcore gang members in neighborhoods where they are trying to recruit young people.

The children, between 7 and 12 years old, say they would be bored or watching television if they didn't come here. Authorities believe it's a safe haven.

"We would much rather have prevention in place, have those proactive things so we don't have to deal with them throughout adult life of crime," said Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters.

Officials say the program is so much in demand that 200 kids are on a waiting list.


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