Getting a chance at starting over

Ex-gang member finds a safety net in the city’s Youth Outreach program.
By Josh Kleinbaum
News-Press

February 14, 2004

SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — Sitting on a couch this week in a small Glendale apartment, her 4-month-old baby bouncing on her lap and two friends by her side, everything about Fabiola exudes safety and comfort. She is safe, and her son, Diego Joseph, is safe. Her family is safe.

What a difference a year can make. About a year ago, Fabiola, then 16, went to a party in Echo Park with some old friends, gang members. They drank alcohol, but she says she did not take any drugs. Later that night, they piled in a car to go to the beach.

“Then something happened,” Fabiola said. “To this day, I don’t know what happened.”

She remembers waking up more than 24 hours later in a Santa Monica hospital, an anonymous Jane Doe with no friends, no family and no identification.

“They said a vein exploded in my head, a blood clot,” Fabiola said. “I was in the hospital for a month.”

She does not know what caused the accident, but she hints at foul play — the combination of drugs and a preexisting condition can cause such a blood clot, physicians said.

That served as Fabiola’s wake-up call. With the help of those two friends on her couch Thursday afternoon, Fabiola is turning her life around.

She met those friends, Almira Agosto and Ara Arzumanian, about two years ago, well before the accident. Agosto, a community services coordinator for the city’s Youth Outreach program, was walking down the street with one of Fabiola’s friends. Agosto and Fabiola began talking, and Agosto said she might be able to get Fabiola a job.

“The ability to help youth get jobs, we use that as a carrot,” Agosto said. “That opens the door for us to get to know the youth and the issues they have beyond employment.”

Since starting in December 2001, the city’s Youth Outreach program has made contact with more than 1,800 teens. The program’s three-person staff is in contact with 300 of them, and has gotten jobs for 90 of them.

They canvas the city, visiting usual trouble spots, trying to meet as many people as possible. They throw parties for the teens, trying to initiate contact so they can help those in need.

“People are like, ‘Oh, you’re just a job program,’ ” said Arzumanian, the program’s coordinator. “We help people get jobs, but oftentimes the job is a vehicle to help people get on with their life.”

When Agosto talked about a job, Fabiola thought she was kidding. Who would hire a 15-year-old gang member? When she realized Agosto was serious, she jumped at the chance.

Things finally seem all right for Fabiola. She’s a junior at Daily High School, in a program designed for single parents. She works for the Glendale Youth Employment Agency, answering phones, typing files and putting together mailings. She plans to go to college and study psychology.

For more information about the youth program, call 548-2796.

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