An after-hours summer program aimed at reducing gang violence in select Los Angeles neighborhoods begins its first full week today, and at South L.A.'s Ross Snyder Park, organizers are expecting up to 700 people. Summer Night Lights, now in its fifth year, runs Wednesday through Saturday at 32 parks throughout the city. The kick off evening for the event was last weekend, but tonight starts the real trial run.
"It's our first week we're going to kind of get a taste for what it is," said Ross Snyder Park coordinator for the event, Jose Ibarra-Virgen.
This 41st Street park was one of the original locations involved in the Lights program, said Ibarra-Virgen, and over the past few years the area has seen tangible changes. The program has become more family oriented and the community has begun "really owning the park" -- even taking over a certain portion of the park that used to be a populated hangout for local gang members.
"It [Summer Night Lights] has reduced the violence but its also engaged the whole family," he said.
He added that they expect at least 500 people, and this includes kids of all ages, teens, parents and grandparents. Soccer games, dance classes, fitness boot camps and knitting circles are all part of the nightly activities. Ibarra-Virgen said that many of the women who began knitting together didn't know each other at first, but soon discovered connections such as their sons being victims of local crimes.
Guillermo Cespedes, deputy mayor of the Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) organization that organizes Summer Night Lights, said event turnout size all depends on the individual park. Smaller areas only see about 250 people, where large locations such as the Sepulveda Park can attract more than a thousand.
The more than 30 parks involved in the program are all in one of the 12 areas targeted by the GRYD program. These zones are designated districts in Los Angeles where rates of violent gang-related crime are at least 400 percent higher than elsewhere in the city.
Ross Snyder park is part of the Newton district, which also includes Slauson and South Park. The neighboring districts of Southwest, Southeast and 77th Division each have at least two parks involved in the Summer Night Lights program as well.
Most sites typically include organized league sports such as soccer and basketball as well and skateboarding, said Cespedes, but additional activities depend on the communities interests and range from street hockey to horseshoes, dominoes and lotería (a Mexican game similar to bingo.)
Summer Night Lights runs from Wednesday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to midnight until September 1. The program began in 2008 and in 2011, the LAPD saw a 35 percent reduction in gang-related crime during the summer in areas surrounding the program's parks, according to a press release from the city.