PD’s partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove keeps at-risk kids on right path

By Greg Hardesty

The instructor goes over some common nicknames for marijuana.

Buddha. Ganja. Mary Jane.

She mentions some of the side effects of smoking weed.

Dry mouth. Increased appetite. Red eyes.

Her audience?

Six boys and girls who aren’t here on their own accord, but who are hearing what they need to hear:

Smoking marijuana is stupid.

Sgt. John Reynolds of the Garden Grove PD, talks about Youth Outreach Program at the Juvenile Justice Center in Garden Grove. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Sgt. John Reynolds of the Garden Grove PD talks about the Family & Youth Outreach Program at the Juvenile Justice Center in Garden Grove. Reynolds is in charge of the GGPD’s Youth Services Unit.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Based on the responses of some of the middle- and high-school students from Garden Grove to questions posed by class facilitator Lily Dueñas, some of the material is sinking in.

One boy acknowledges getting dizzy and throwing up when he first smoked weed.

Another admits that after he lit up in the morning, he was too lazy to go to school.

All seem to be listening when Dueñas’ emphasizes that smoking marijuana can lead to the use of other drugs such as heroin, ecstasy, cocaine and meth.

“It’s really important now that you don’t make the same mistakes,” Dueñas tells the kids, who were roughly halfway through the 10-hour Marijuana Support Class, one of several ongoing education courses that are part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family & Youth Outreach Program (FYOP).

Benjamin Torrevillas, 13, writes down what he learned during a marijuana support class focusing on health effects at the Juvenile Justice Center in Garden Grove. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Benjamin Torrevillas, 13, writes down what he learned during a Marijuana Support Class focusing on the health effects of pot at the Juvenile Justice Center in Garden Grove.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

FYOP works closely with the Garden Grove Police Department and the Garden Grove Unified School District to serve at-risk youth who have behavioral issues at school or at home.

The eight teenagers who went through a recent Marijuana Support Class all were caught possessing or using marijuana. The mostly first-time offenders also participated in a Juvenile Offender Education program run by Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove.

The whole point of FYOP is to keep kids out of handcuffs through programs that focus on diversion and prevention, saving lives and money in the process. The approximate cost for a youth who is arrested and goes through the Juvenile Court system is estimated at $65,000.

For more than 20 years, the Garden Grove PD has closely collaborated with Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove through its Youth Services Unit, headed up by Sgt. John Reynolds.

FYOP programs are run out of offices directly adjacent to Garden Grove PD headquarters in the PD’s Juvenile Justice Center.

In addition to its collaboration with Boys & Girls Club of Garden Grove, the Youth Services Unit investigates all crimes involving juveniles as suspects or runaways.

Lily Dueñas talks about the effects Marijuana has on the brain during a marijuana support class, part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family and Youth Outreach Program at the Juvenile Justice Center in Garden Grove. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Lily Dueñas talks about the effects marijuana has on the brain at a class that is part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family and Youth Outreach Program (FYOP). 
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Special officers in the unit maintain a presence on 14 different intermediate and high school campuses, and the unit has two investigators assigned to graffiti crimes.

The unit also sends officers to speak at the Marijuana Support Class and in other FYOP sessions.

Dueñas’ Marijuana Support Class is divided into five two-hour evening sessions that include topics such as goal-setting and taking responsibility for one’s actions, self-esteem, the law and the consequences of breaking it, and avoiding high-risk situations.

Cell phones are a no-no.

Participation is strongly encouraged.

Some of the students in the recent marijuana class kept quiet throughout the evening, while others were more eager to share their misadventures with pot.

No one sat in the front row.

Dueñas never talked down to the kids or came across as preachy — an approach that appeared to resonate with them.

“That’s not very smart, right?” she told a kid who said he used to fire up a joint before school.

Lily Dueñas teaches a group of youth during a marijuana support class, part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family and Youth Outreach Program at the Juvenile Justice Center in Garden Grove. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

She talked about how marijuana use affects one’s mobility and emotions, and how it can lead to long-term problems like bronchitis and a weakened immune system.

“That sounds terrible to me,” Dueñas told the kids. “What do you think?”

At one point, Dueñas asked the kids to shout out the pros and cons of smoking weed, and she wrote their responses on a whiteboard.

In the end, the cons outnumbered the pros, nine to seven.

“You don’t need a drug to make you happy,” Dueñas said.

She then came up with five “Ds” to remember when the temptation to get high strikes: distract, delay, deep breathing, drink water and discuss.

Reynolds said FYOP dates back to 1993, the brainchild of then-GGPD Officer and future Chief Kevin Raney.

“We’re all about intervention to achieve prevention,” said Reynolds, who praised the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove as one of the most innovative in the nation.

Francisco Valenzuela, 16, attends a marijuana support class, part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family and Youth Outreach Program at the Juvenile Justice Center. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Francisco Valenzuela, 16, attends a recent Marijuana Support Class, part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family & Youth Outreach Program.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

With more than 6,500 children and teens served daily at 60 program locations, Boys & Girls Club of Garden Grove serves more than any other boys and girls club in the nation based on average daily attendance, officials say.

FYOP charges a nominal fee for participants for “no one is turned away,” said Jessica Medina, director of FYOP for Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove. About 2,000 youth, mostly ages 13-18, participate in FYOP each year.

“By the end of the day,” said Det. Dave Lopez, an investigator in the GGPD’s Youth Services Unit, “many of these kids and their families are thankful for the opportunity.”

Lily Dueñas has her class come up with a list of pro’s and con’s of marijuana use during a marijuana support class, part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family and Youth Outreach Program at the Juvenile Justice Center in Garden Grove. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Lily Dueñas has her class come up with a list of pros and cons of marijuana use. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Lily Dueñas teaches a group of youth during a marijuana support class, part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family and Youth Outreach Program at the Juvenile Justice Center in Garden Grove. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Lily Dueñas teaches a group of youth during a marijuana support class, part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family and Youth Outreach Program at the Juvenile Justice Center in Garden Grove.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove executives responsible for Garden Grove’s Family and Youth Outreach Program includes Jessica Medina, director, left, Christina Sepulveda, vice president of programs and services, Amie Lynch, division director of prevention & intervention programs, and Rachelle Gillerman, director of resource development & marketing. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove executives responsible for Garden Grove’s Family & Youth Outreach Program include Jessica Medina, director of FYOP, left, Christina Sepulveda, vice president of programs and services for the BGCGG, Amie Lynch, division director of prevention & intervention programs for the BGCGG, and Rachelle Gillerman, director of resource development and marketing for the BGCGG.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Lily Dueñas, class facilitator, works with Benjamin Torrevillas, 13, during a Marijuana Support Class, part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family & Youth Outreach Program at the Juvenile Justice Center next to the GGPD. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Lily Dueñas, class facilitator, works with Benjamin Torrevillas, 13, during a Marijuana Support Class, part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove’s Family & Youth Outreach Program at the Juvenile Justice Center next to the GGPD.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC