Trips for Kids: Program in Santa Cruz County aims to get gang bangers off the streets and into the mountains
SANTA CRUZ - Allison Cruz, a Santa Cruz attorney who specializes in juvenile delinquency cases, has enjoyed mountain biking for years. But the idea of using the sport as a way for her clients to redirect their energy into something positive only surfaced a couple of years ago.
She'd spent the earlier part of the day in court, then went to bike the trails behind UC Santa Cruz with her husband. As she biked the trails, she found herself wishing the client she'd represented that day were there.
"This is probably the same rush they get from gang banging," she thought.
About six months later, Cruz discovered Trips for Kids, a nonprofit organization that has 73 chapters across the country, and began the process of starting a local branch. "I can't believe how much help we've gotten just by asking for it," she said.
A coalition of organizations and businesses has joined the effort, including Surfrider Cafe, which will donate 15 percent of all sales June 22 to the effort. And the Watsonville Brown Berets - a group that also works with at-risk youth - is offering free space at its warehouse to store the bicycles and equipment.
Meanwhile, Dave Smith, owner of Shuttle Smith Adventures, has offered six free rides on his 13-person bus.
On June 26, the bus will ferry the group on its inaugural ride to the top of Buzzard Lagoon Road near the eastern entrance of the Forest of Nisene Marks in Aptos. They'll pedal along the ridges for a view of the ocean and forested vistas below, then make their way down the fire road.
"I'm a firm believer that if you can get kids excited about exercising and being outdoors, they're not going to be out robbing houses," Smith said. With idle time on their hands, kids often get involved in drugs and mingling with the wrong groups, and "if you can get them away form those influences and in with a group of people who enjoy the great outdoors, they're going to be networking with better people."
Cruz is still looking for people to take on leadership roles, undertaking such tasks as setting up times and dates for the outings, organizing groups and finding volunteers. A leadership training will be held 10 a.m.-noon Sunday at The Bike Shack in Watsonville.
Cruz hopes the outings create a community of mountain bikers among youth who often lack a sense of identification other than as members of gangs, and that it provides a fun activity for those whose parents often lack the time and resources to take them anywhere outside of their immediate neighborhoods.
Another goal is to "develop a healthy community where kids realize there's another way to life than gangs and drugs ... We just want to give them one more possibility," she said.
IF YOU GO
LEADERSHIP TRAINING FOR TRIPS FOR KIDS
WHEN: 10 a.m. to noon Sunday
WHERE: The Bike Shack, 555 Main St., Watsonville
INFORMATION: Allison@Cruzkidz.com or www.tripsforkids.org