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    YFC outreach targeting at-risk youth before they’re jailed

    Eight years ago, John Pacilio started leading chapel and Bible studies and working in gang intervention at juvenile hall. He agonized to see young people locked up and began to pray about what could be done to prevent it. Pacilio is director of The Kids Connection, an outreach program of Youth for Christ.

    This past summer, Kids Connection transitioned from juvenile hall to a street outreach in order to focus more on prevention. Now they are doing both intervention and prevention on the streets. “Our goal is to reach youth who are at risk of hurting themselves or others through their behavior,” Pacilio said.

    Last fall, The Kids Connection selected an area of emerging youth gang and drug activity just west of Mission Bay High School in Pacific Beach and launched their “Neighborhood Adopt-A-Block Project.” They worked with the police, local churches, and the manager of 98 apartments located in the 2200 block of Grand Avenue to bring needed spiritual and practical services to the predominately Hispanic area.

    With the help of Pacific Beach Vineyard Church and Mission Bay Christian Fellowship, they kicked off their program with a street fair to introduce themselves to the community. Several teens accepted the Lord at the outreach, and two gang members cried as volunteers talked to them about Jesus.

    “By bringing the influence of Christian people, ministry, and services to the area,” Pacilio said, “we believe that God can turn the area around and make it a normal middle-class neighborhood again, a peaceful place for people to live.” They hope to bring Bible studies, prayer groups, big brother and sister programs, job referrals, tutoring, and job and life skills training to the youth and adults of the neighborhood.

    “I’m glad John is here,” apartment manager Bogstad said. “He came into our neighborhood one day and said he wanted to do something for our community. That’s happened before and nothing ever developed. But John promised he would do something, and within a week, he organized a community street fair. First time we’ve ever had something happen in our community like that. It’s been calm ever since.”

    In March, 24-year-old Kids Connection volunteer Rodrigo Aguirre moved into one of the apartments in the neighborhood. His apartment is now the ministry center of the Adopt-a-Block project. Aguirre is getting to know his new neighbors and already has a following of youngsters who play his Nintendo game. “One day I was playing my trumpet outside and a high school student came up and talked with me. Another time, when some neighbors asked me where my trumpet was, I told them it was at church. They started asking questions about church and Jesus and even asked me to invite them to activities at my church because they wanted to know more about Jesus.”

    Pacilio said they have been praying for the Mission Bay Locos, a major gang in the area. They prayed that an influential member would accept the Lord and be an example to the rest of the gang. One night, Pacilio was leaving Aguirre’s apartment when a tattoo-covered Hispanic youth, smelling of alcohol, approached him for money to buy food. Pacilio took him back to Aguirre who gave him food, a shower, and a bed for the night. The youth, one of the original members of the Mission Bay Locos, was hungry for more than food. Good seeds were planted that night as Aguirre talked with him about the Lord.

    The response of the neighborhood has been positive. Pacilio said they passed out fliers and invited neighbors to the Easter service at a local church. Bogstad brought several adults and about 30 kids to the service and organized an egg hunt for about 100 kids.

    Pacilio plans to show movies such as the Jesus video and The Cross and the Switchblade in the apartment courtyard this summer and use them as a jumping off point for Bible studies and home meetings. They also plan to bring former gang members in to speak to the adults and kids. Aguirre hopes to start a club for kids and a time of prayer and Bible study for Hispanic Christians. As a Christian presence in the neighborhood, they hope to offer friendship, practical help and Christian-based activities, encourage spiritual commitment and growth, and plug people in to local churches. “We are full of energy to do things for the Lord,” Aguirre said.

    “Slammin’ Second Saturdays” is another Kids Connection outreach that began almost two years ago. Youth from Marston and Clairemont High Schools are invited to the Salvation Army Center in Clairemont on the second Saturday each month from 6 to 10 p.m. The gospel is presented through activities in the gym, pizza and soda, big-screen videos, live music and drama, and testimonies of ex-gang members and ex-drug addicts who have become Christians. The evening includes a rapid-fire concert, one and a half hours of non-stop entertainment that culminates in a time of prayer. All kids under 18 are welcome to the free event that currently draws 50 to 150 kids.

    “Many kids have come forward during the altar calls. Several have indicated they wouldn’t miss a Second Saturday. They say it’s not only good stuff to go to, the message is always encouraging,” said Pacilio. “Kids Connection tries to hook them up with a local church, Salvation Army or a mature big brother or sister for friendship and mentoring.

    “We are following the Lord’s desire to reach youth,” Pacilio said. “His heart is for the hurting kids who are heading in the wrong direction. Any success is because the Lord has led us to do what we’re doing. If God’s in it, it succeeds. If not, it won’t. It works because of His love for kids.” Pacilio asks for prayer for what they are doing and hopes to replicate their outreach programs in other neighborhoods.

    Pacilio is the program’s only full-time staff person, and his wife, Fran, joins him part-time. They network with local churches and work with about 25 volunteers who love the Lord and want to bring His love to kids. The program needs Christians of all ages to teach parenting skills, help single moms, play sports, minister to Hispanics, be big brothers and sisters to the kids, and use their gifts to promote God’s kingdom. They also need a computer, printer, television, VCR, computer and video games, and people to help defray the program costs.

    For more information about The Kids Connection, contact John Pacilio at 9252 Chesapeake Drive, San Diego, CA 92123, call (619) 292-8000.

    Lorraine Espinosa of Bonita is a freelance writer.

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