Founded in 1991, the Sheriff’s Department’s Youth Activities League has made a difference in countless children throughout Los Angeles, and the same is especially true for the local chapter in Val Verde.
From keeping kids off the streets to raising grades in the classroom, the program’s results can be pretty rewarding, said Deputy Brian Rooney, who coordinates the program for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, with help from Los Angeles County and Santa Clarita, as well as grants, nonprofits and nearby Live Oak Elementary.
“This definitely feels more rewarding, more than chasing down a bad guy,” Rooney said. “We’d like to catch them before they can become a bad guy.”
The program provides an after school community center for about 60 K-8 students, offering a place for them to study, as well as activities as a reward for their efforts.
One of Rooney’s proudest achievements has been the results of the Homework Club that offers students points as a reward for academic achievement, which affords them trips to places that they might otherwise not be able to go to, such as museums, amusement parks and zoos.
The program has been supported by teachers from the nearby elementary that has used a grant to send teachers to tutor the students, Rooney said.
Rooney said one of his proudest policing statistics is the 50 percent increase in test scores for the students in the Homework Club, some of whom are English-language learners whose parents appreciate the support of programs such as this one.
“Through its innovative recreational, educational and mentorship programs, the sheriff’s Youth Activities League is an effective public safety tool,” said Tony Bell, a spokesman for county Supervisor Michael Antonovich, whom Rooney called a big supporter.
“(The program) provides young people with positive activities in safe facilities, and tools they need to succeed in life, which helps keep them away from crime and enhances the overall safety of our communities,” he said.
The growth of the program also has led to the need for a bigger facility, which is currently supervised by Jaime Briano, who runs the site with help from two staffers who are supported by county grants and the Sheriff’s Youth Foundation.
While the league is well supported, the demand has created a need for more space. The program has a “wish list” posted on the Sheriff’s Youth Foundation’s site, which is the group responsible for the YAL.
The list includes: “Our own facility, computers, sports equipment, digital camera, tables/chairs and a ping pong table.”
Rooney said the program is thriving, but only thanks to support from a lot of different outlets. And it creates a lasting positive association between law enforcement and the community.
“I’ve had way more of an impact where I’m at now than I ever had driving a black-and-white (patrol car) around,” he said. “I think if you put the (Sheriff’s Department) uniform with it, there’s more of a positive influence that, ‘Yeah, we’re here to protect and you can dial 911.’”