Changing Lives Every Day

.

There are 16 throughout Los Angeles County — and every one represents a safe haven.

For some kids, the local YAL is a place to get some much-needed help with homework. For others, it’s a place to shoot some hoops or learn a new sport without fear of physical violence or becoming tangled up in many of the other negative distractions the streets have to offer.

For others, it’s literally a place to call home.

Take, for example, the 15-year-old girl who says that, after her mother walked out on her family, the Compton YAL has become the one place where she feels like she has a mom.

Or, consider the 16-year-old boy whose uncle and cousin were both killed by gang violence — within days of each other. For him, the mentors at the Youth Academy in Temple City provided crucial emotional support in his time of need — and helped him navigate the pain.

These are just some of the ways in which the 16 YALs countywide are making a difference in the lives of youths every day.

The YALs operate during the most crucial hours of the day, from 3 to 7 p.m., a time when many parents are not yet home from work and there’s much trouble to be found on the streets.

The YALs are available to youths ages 7 to 17, and there is no fee to participate. The facilities are staffed by a blend of deputies, civilian staff and untold dozens of volunteers who just want to help.

It’s a formula that works.

“The Sheriff’s YALs are special in so many ways and truly bridges the gap between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” says Deputy Arthur Valenzuela, who supervises the Temple YAL.

“We take the time to know our youth and their families to assist in building the best possible community from the base of the family.”

Here you’ll find a profile of each of the 16 Youth Academies throughout the county. They are each unique in their own way, and they serve a diverse array of communities. And they serve youths whose needs and experiences are equally diverse.

Yet, there are common threads among them all: A Youth Activity League is a place that provides fun and healthy things to do; it provides academic help; it provides guidance during times of need — and it provides direction, motivation and hope for a positive future in situations that may otherwise seem bleak.

And, it provides acceptance.

“A Youth Activity League is a place where kids can come together and just be kids,” says Jaime Briano, site manager for the Santa Clarita Valley YAL in Val Verde. “You can be any shape, size or color and be accepted.”

The YALs help our county’s youths in so many ways, changing their lives for the better — enabling them to beat the odds that circumstance has stacked against them.

The results show up in the form of teenagers who have found direction in their lives, and are setting goals to help them realize their dreams and become happy, healthy adults.

“I used to get in a lot of trouble,” says Jorge Machuca, age 15, who participates in activities at the Lakewood YAL. “I didn’t have any discipline at all. I just used to stay home and do nothing productive at all, and my mom was mad at me.”

“And then,” he says, smiling, “I found the Youth Activity League.”