by Patrick Moreno, Community Reporter
The Summer Night Lights (SNL) program- an initiative aimed at reducing the number of violent incidents at Long Beach parks during the summer, kicked off this week. Long Beach non-profit Centro CHA (Community Hispanic Association) held a press conference at Martin Luther King Park July 9th to mark the beginning of the program’s third consecutive year. SNL provides cultural enrichment and a safe haven for constructive family fun to the communities surrounding Admiral Kidd, Martin Luther King, and Drake parks.
Mayor Bob Foster, Police Chief Jim McDonnell, and Councilmember Dee Andrews were all present for the kick-off , along with local media, community outreach workers, and members of SNL’s “youth squad,” a group of teenage outreach interns hired from the neighborhoods surrounding each park.
Paradise Wishum, who is in her second year as a youth-squad member, has returned as a group leader after her success in the program last year. “I think it will be great to see the kids get their free dinner,” she said. “I don’t remember a program like this when I was growing up.”
Mayor Foster said this program is important because, “It will provide kids and adults with educational enrichment, physical activity, and a free healthy meal.” Foster remembered when he was younger, he and his friends would play sports all summer. “These kids need a place to do these fun things at night,” Foster said. The Mayor acknowledged the rising costs for parents to keep their children and young adults enrolled in summer athletic or enrichment programs can make it difficult to keep them occupied at night. Foster believes the activities provided to youth and young adults at the SNL program build leadership skills and said, “There is nothing more important than passing the torch of leadership on to our youth.”
The mayor’s sentiment was not lost on Chief of Police Jim McDonnell, who made-up a handshake with a little boy to keep him from pestering a little girl near-by. “We used to have programs like D.A.R.E. and the PAL program,” McDonnell said. “Those programs gave us the ability to interact with children and teens in a non-policing way,” he said, as he gestured toward the little boy.
With resources stretched thin at their department, the chief said, “[Police] officers are obligated to rush from call to call throughout the city.” “We don’t have time to meet the youth in the way we used to,” he said. “We always encourage our officers to try to leave a positive impression on every call, but when they are constantly in a hurry, that can’t always be done,” McDonnell said. He reinforced “We need ways to interact with these youth in a one-on-one setting, because that’s what leaves them with the greatest positive impression of their own ability to be a leader someday.”
After the conference, executive Director of Centro CHA Jessica Quintana talked about her impression of the conference and the increased media coverage from past years. “We’re trying to create a safe haven of enrichment here at the parks,” she said, “and I think people are finally starting to understand and subscribe to our comprehensive approach.”
One night of the first week of Summer Night Lights saw problems due to rain, but Quintana asserts that rain or shine, the lights will stay on for the SNL program until the end of August.
Schedules of events, up to the day updates on programming and cancellations, as well as other frequently asked questions can be answered by following Cento CHA on twitter @CentroCha, or liking them on facebook at Centro Cha.