Testimony of teen breaking away from gang life spurs city to OK funding for Sunnyside's Promise

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Orthodontist Randy Schuler (left) has welcomed a new partner, Jared Condie, to his practice, Sunny Smile Orthodontics, located on East Lincoln Avenue.

The Sunnyside City Council last night (Monday) approved $30,000 in funding from the Parks and Recreation fund for Sunnyside's Promise.

The organization's director, Mark Baysinger, and a young man whom Sunnyside's Promise is helping each spoke of the efforts of the organization.

Baysinger detailed all that has been happening at the Sunnyside Community Center, which the Sunnyside's Promise group now operates. He said 692 individuals have used the facility since his organization reopened it.

Sunnyside's Promise, however, is running out of funds because a grant through the University of Washington did not come through.

Baysinger said the front page story in Monday's Daily Sun News edition, detailing that sixth and seventh graders are the most likely targets of gang recruitments, verifies the mission of Sunnyside's Promise.

He said much of what has been accomplished to date is due to the generosity of volunteers, the Sunnyside School District and other organizations in the community who have invested in the youngsters served through Sunnyside's Promise.

Baysinger detailed programs that have been made available to youngsters in the community, including cooking, dance, health, beauty, arts and physical training classes.

"The boot camp exercise class has been received well, especially among the younger children," he told council.

People for People has provided Sunnyside's Promise with a janitor who is receiving on-the-job training and the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic has provided clerical staff.

To illustrate the difference Sunnyside's Promise is making in the lives of Sunnyside's youth, Baysinger introduced an 18-year-old youth, who was referred to the organization through the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, a division of the Department of Human and Social Services.

"Sunnyside's Promise began working with (him) although he was facing felony charges," said Baysinger.

A process had to follow. The teen was facing charges of third degree assault of a law enforcement officer, and when he was referred to Sunnyside's Promise he also had a criminal record.

Baysinger and the teen met with Yakima County Prosecutor Jim Hagarty and the officer whom the youngster assaulted. Both had to agree to allow Sunnyside's Promise to help the young man.

The local teen told council, "I grew up with a father...when I was six he was charged criminally."

He said his father was sent to Mexico and his mother was left to raise his two younger brothers and himself.

He said he began hanging around "the wrong crowd" and the gangs enticed him while he was in middle school.

"At the age of 16 I got my first charge for possession of marijuana," he told the city council members, noting he continued to live the gang lifestyle until he was facing felony charges.

The 18-year-old now attends a program called "Get Set" in Toppenish and works with Sunnyside's Promise.

"Sunnyside's Promise gave me the opportunity to view college campuses...I never thought I would ever get to see a college campus," he told council.

Because of the work he is doing with Sunnyside's Promise, including attending online educational courses, the young man has been given one-year of probation.

"Sunnyside's Promise has helped me see life differently...my mom is a single parent and she doesn't deserve this (his life of crime)," said the teen.

"I can see I have a future and I can be somebody in life," he stated.

After the teen received a round of applause from the council for turning his life around, Baysinger continued speaking to the council members.

He told them there are many challenges his organization has taken on, but to continue the progress being made through Sunnyside's Promise further funding is necessary.

Baysinger assured the council he will continue to seek out future grant funding sources in an effort to keep the community center and the programs offered by Sunnyside's Promise operational.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock and Councilman Mike Farmer were admittedly moved by the teen who accompanied Baysinger to last night's meeting.

Hancock said, "(He) is an example of what can happen when we come together as a community."

Farmer shared his thoughts, stating, "I was concerned about the $30,000 for the community center...but, I believe I am changed by (the teen's) testimony."

The youngster was asked about his plans for the future and he told the council members he plans to finish his education so that he may join the military and some day return to the community to serve as a SWAT team member.

To further assist Sunnyside's Promise, Sunnyside Finance Director Byron Olson spoke up, stating his background provides him a unique perspective on how to obtain funding for recreational programs such as those offered by Sunnyside's Promise.

He offered to assist Baysinger in the search for funding sources.

After some debate on how the Parks and Recreation funding was intended to be used, the city council voted unanimously to grant $30,000 to Sunnyside's Promise.



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