A ministry of the Hispanic Presbyterian Church of San Diego, “Reality Changers” was founded in May 2001 by UC San Diego graduate Christopher Yanov, 28. After working with gang members for 5 years, he realized it doesn’t do any good to teach teenagers to say ŒNo¹ to things like drugs, violence and sex without giving them something to say ŒYes¹ to like higher education and Jesus Christ.
³Gang membership is a default culture,² he said. ³They do it because there¹s nothing else to do.²
Yanov said, while program participants have to agree to abstain from sex, drugs and gangs, aside from a random drug tests once a year, negative activities don¹t get the attention in his program.
³They know drugs are wrong, they know gangs are wrong,² he said. ³We don¹t have to tell them again and again.²
Yanov said while drug, crime and pregnancy prevention aren¹t the purpose of the program, they naturally become the result when teenagers have something to live for.
³In six years, the first 108 students that passed through the program have never tested positive for drugs,² he said.
The program currently has 83 students. The North County site at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church is looking for more students. The original site in downtown San Diego has a waiting list of more than 30 students working to make personal changes so they can be accepted into the program.
Yanov, who is also a substitute teacher, said what he looks for in prospective Reality Changers members are students who have the potential and the desire to change their lives and just need the opportunity.
The students are the first in their families to attend college. Many will be the first to graduate high school, he said, while some are the first to get to high school.
Yanov said he wants to cure, what he calls, ³Inner-city Syndrome,² when socioeconomically-disadvantaged children desperately want out of their drug-and-violence-infested environments — but believe that¹s life because that¹s all they see.
³If they are exposed to people who are shot and killed all the time, then that is their reality,² he said. ³None of these teenagers knew a college student before the program, so we try to turn that around.²
For more information, call (619) 232-1998 or go to www.realitychangers.org.