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Gang awareness effort seeks to move forward

From the get-go, Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder said yesterday's Sunnyside's Promise meeting would be about coming up with a plan of action for taking on the problem of criminal gangs.

The 20 or so people in attendance at Thursday's meeting, though, had difficulty in coming up with a unified approach in going forward.

Some wanted action, some more planning, some in-depth discussion on what constitutes "gang involvement."

The first half of the 90-minute meeting was taken up with discussing what the key issues are that face Sunnyside.

After talks that ranged from cultural barriers to poverty, the group finally settled on three core issues to pursue. They are gang involvement, teen drug and alcohol use and empowering parents to work with their children.

John Hughes from the Sunnyside School District said an executive board made of managers from Sunnyside Community Hospital, the school district and the city of Sunnyside want to see a plan of action developed.

He said the board wants to see Sunnyside's Promise focus on just one of the five promises to youth - safe places - which has brought about the discussion on what to do with gang violence.

Hughes indicated Sunnyside schools are willing to put up funds to see a plan implemented. He said if the Sunnyside's Promise group couldn't come up with a plan of attack, then the school district will hire an outside consultant.

Yesterday's meeting turned tense at times, as the various agencies represented tried to come up with a united focus.

Sandra Linde of Sunnyside Community Hospital said it's going to take a commitment for people to come to all of the gang awareness meetings. That was in response to a comment that each meeting seems to have a different set of people in attendance.

There was general agreement to plan a series of monthly workshops or retreats to address issues ranging from developing a definition of gang involvement to assessing the resources available in the Sunnyside community to deal with the issues of gangs and drug/alcohol use among teens.

The group agreed that gangs and the use of drugs and alcohol go hand-in-hand. Tackling one, in other words, can help in dealing with the other.

Besides the agreed sense of urgency in dealing with Sunnyside's gang problem, the Sunnyside's Promise group has an incentive to narrow its focus in the next few weeks as deadlines are approaching to apply for possible grant funding.

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