Many cities throughout California experience a rise in violence during the summer. When school is out, cities struggle to keep youth engaged in positive activities. This is especially true in areas that are prone to gang violence. To address this challenge, the City of Los Angeles adopted a Summer Night Lights (SNL) program in which parks and recreation centers — many in areas with extensive gang activity — remain open 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., and volunteers and staff facilitate safe, healthy activities for children and families. At these events, city and county departments and nonprofit organizations provide everything from nutritious meals to Zumba lessons.
Public-Private Partnership Spurs Program
The city organizes SNL through a public-private partnership of the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development (GRYD) and the nonprofit GRYD Foundation. SNL conducts athletic, recreational, educational and artistic activities that are youth- and adult-centered. Activities include dance classes and art workshops such as silk screening, ceramics, illustration and painting. For those who are more sports oriented, the program offers basketball, softball and soccer leagues. City and county departments and nonprofit organizations also provide resource fairs, health screenings and workshops. SNL hires community intervention workers to engage youth in proactive peacekeeping activities as well as violence-interruption strategies.
Since 2008 more than 4 million youth and families have participated in SNL’s free activities, and the program has served over 2 million meals featuring fresh produce. SNL reaches families living below the poverty line and provides activities to help fight obesity.
Creating a Positive Change
In addition to helping decrease violence, SNL creates job opportunities for both adults and youth. Through SNL’s Youth Squad, teens and young adults age 17 to 24 receive job training on customer service, leadership, team-building, financial literacy and work readiness. As a result, the program has hired and trained 326 at-risk youths, 240 of whom received a work readiness certificate in 2015.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health surveyed SNL efforts in the county and found that recreation and parks staff members are frontline ambassadors for community health. Evaluations and data also reveal that SNL programs are effective in reducing crime, preventing violence, increasing physical activity and building social cohesion and trust among community members and staff, which is particularly effective in serving disadvantaged communities. In summer 2014 alone, the city saw a 15.4 percent reduction in gang-related crime in the 32 SNL communities compared to these locations in 2013.
City staff and elected officials enjoy SNL as a way to engage with members of the public who often do not attend public events and meetings. SNL activities support positive youth development and can be a key strategy in reducing summertime crime and violence among youth by bringing communities together in safe spaces.
© 2016 League of California Cities®. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from the August 2016 issue of Western City® magazine, the monthly publication of the League of California Cities®. For related information, visit www.westerncity.com.