For 30 years, kids in Los Angeles have been learning to avoid gang activity through a program called Making the Right Connections.
This Lexington County Sheriff’s Department brought the program to South Carolina this summer in an effort to empower children here.
“The goal of this program is the prevention aspect of working gangs,” Investigator Brian Zwolak said. “The Sheriff’s Department is doing a lot of suppression where we go out and enforce the laws and that’s our job, but when you’re working with gangs, it’s a community issue and you also have to deal with prevention.”
Marge Rath founded the six-week program in Los Angeles. Its success encouraged her to take it to other areas that were having the same gang problem.
“Having it here in West Columbia really isn’t any different,” Rath said. “The gang activity has its own social, psychological reasons and as long as you have a large population, you’re going to have gang activity.”
Lexington County operated a pilot program for two weeks and focused on building confidence and empowering kids to create their own paths in life.
“We work on conflict resolution skills, you don’t have to use your fists to solve a problem,” Rath said. “We work a lot on values clarification, what’s right, what’s wrong, so that they can identify those things if and when they’re approached.”
Turner Memorial AME Church and other public safety agencies in the area volunteered time resources to the program. Zwolak said those partnerships are important to continuing the program in South Carolina.
“This is a community problem. It’s not just a Sheriff’s Department problem, it affects everybody,” he said. “Without the buy-in from the community members and the churches and schools and everything else, it’s very difficult for the Sheriff’s Department to impact gangs.”