By CAITLIN ESCH
With gurgling babies balanced on knees, approximately 30 young Latina mothers and a few fathers gathered Tuesday morning at the Mission Neighborhood Center on Capp Street to learn how to raise peaceful children in an increasingly violent world.
“I tell them, you need to know [about violence prevention] because your child—who is 5 years old now—is going to be in the juvenile justice system in 10 years,” said class facilitator Julio Escobar.
The violence prevention course—new this year—was brought to Head Start by popular demand, according to Parent Coordinator Sylvia Urrutia. Classes—given in Spanish—are free, and attendance is high.
“There’s a lot of violence happening in the neighborhood lately,” said Urrutia, referring to the Mission’s late-summer spate of murders. “Parents said they wanted something in regards to the violence… they want to teach something better for their children.”
The course details the impact of domestic abuse on children, child development, discipline, anger management, and Hispanic gangs.
Escobar, a certified violence prevention trainer, also works with incarcerated youth and former gang members through the Christian group Comunidad San Dimas.
Last week, Escobar brought a group of former gang members to speak to parents.
“They saw a reality they normally wouldn’t see,” said Escobar. “The rehabbed youth talked about their experiences with violence and drugs.”
Throughout the two-hour class, parents broke up into small groups, recording common scenarios. One talked about what to do when baby won’t stop crying in the middle of the night. A common response might be slapping the child, the moderator said, but the correct response would be to calmly pacify the child without violence.
“We believe children at young ages are like sponges,” said Urrutia. “They learn what’s around them, and some of these kids see violence at home and grow up thinking it’s right. By the time they realize it, they’re already violent people.”
At 23 years old, Maris Diaz has two children ages 3 and 7. She came to class with her 23-year-old husband Hancy Basques, joking, “he doesn’t want to come, but I make him.”
Diaz works full-time as a cashier. To get Tuesdays off, she has to work weekends. But, she said, it’s worth it.
“We really need this class,” she said. “Sometimes, I have to work a lot and I have a lot of stress on my back…. The problems start at home. If you help parents, it will help the kids. And that’s going to help change violence in the neighborhood.”
Basques—one of two men in the class—works full-time as a pizza maker. He too asked for Tuesdays off to take the course. Basques said the most important thing he has learned so far is how to keep calm when he speaks to his children.
“There’s a huge need,” Escobar said. “A lot of parents have never been to parenting training, they don’t know how to handle anger and solve conflicts.”
Urrutia said the class has proven so popular that a Saturday session has been planned for next spring. And, she hopes, little by little, courses like Yocal’s will help turn the tide of violence.
“We can prevent violence,” Urrutia said. “By talking to your neighbors and spreading the word about things—like violence—that happen in the home, you can prevent your children from becoming violent.”
Contracted by the Head Start Program to facilitate the nine-week course, Mission-based training program Yocal, an acronym for Youth Change Alternatives, runs the class. For more information, visit http://www.yocal.org.