Archive for the ‘USC: Behavioral Employment Program’ Category

Look at me! I have a job!! :] Exactly a month after SNL ended I begun a new endeavor at Pacific Clinics as a Mental Health Worker, aka. case manager. To say that I was officially hired full-time has been a huge blessing in my life. It had been one and a half years since I walked across the stage to receive my diploma from my very expensive university; and, as time passed without employment the harder it was becoming to pay back my loans. And let me tell you, having those payments over your head without money to pay them… not fun at all.

To think back to how I was linked to this job has been interesting. Though I did not realize it until now, all of the little steps that I have taken to this moment began when I started interning with the USC: Behavioral Employment Program study under Dr. Stan Huey a year ago in September 2009. After not having any luck with my job search, I decided to reach out to get more experience in psychology research since I hadn’t done much during my undergrad years. Working as a research assistant, I was exposed to many new things, people and experiences; every session I sat in, every data entry shift, every phone interview, I learned something new. The BEP study taught me a lot, especially under the mentorship of Caitlin; I believe that she has taught me that it is possible to achieve my dream of working with juvenile youth at such a young age – considering everyone that I have worked with previously has been a few years older than me… Push #1.

Push #2. I volunteered to working with another client with a new counselor I had not met before, Kris. Though you can never compare stories of at-risk youth, I can honestly say that this has been my most challenging so far. I have never felt so connected and emotionally invested in trying to have this young man succeed in life, and, I was very happy to know that Kris also felt the same way about working with this young man. Knowing how hard this particular case was and seeing how much work Kris was putting into it, without any particular benefits or incentives for himself [volunteering besides working full time] reminded me of the passion I also had to work in this field.

These two amazing individuals mirrored to me what I have been wanting to do with as much passion that I want to do it with. They lit my “determination fire” that much more. And to top it off! Not only did they remind me of my career goals, they were also the catalyst to me being employed today. [[If either of you are reading, thanks a million!]]

Though I have gone a year and a half without obtaining a full time, stable job after graduation, I am very happy that I did not give up on my dream and settle for another job – on something that I know that I would not like doing. And although I am also hardly in the beginning stages of my career, I would not have traded this past year and a half for anything else. Thanks for everyone who believed in my goal and supported my decisions. I hope that anyone who reads this post is reminded of their own goals and not to give up on them, no matter how hard the road may be.



When people think of gangs,  progression usually doesn’t come to mind; simple thoughts of a group of young men that “enjoy” vandalizing, harassing and ultimately committing crime usually come to mind. The actual definition of ‘Gangs’ only recently changed due to the new studies and information that has been surfacing within the last several decades. In the beginning, criminologists believed wholeheartedly that “most street gangs were the urbanized equivalent of primitive tribes, recruited from broken families and disturbed psyches, pursuing essentially nihilistic objectives” (Mike Davis). However, gangs today are much further progressed than what we have once experience way back when. According to the newest study by John M. Hagedorn: neither War nor Peace, gangs have recently institutionalized themselves.

In the study, Hagedorn and his fellow colleagues traveled around the world in attempt to learn differences among gangs in different countries such as Cape Town, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro – as well as the underlying common factor they all have. Some of the many conclusions that they have found are as follows:

  • Migration + Cities + Poverty + Slums + Discrimination + Youth = Gangs
  • The world cannot support the rate of the urbanization of cities
  • “By 2020, the UN estimates, half of the world’s urban population will live in poverty”
  • Children of immigrant parents are not supported properly
  • Due to rapid urbanization, formal institutions (schools, church, family) are not strong enough to replace the traditional ones immigrants leave behind in their countries.

By the world’s growing urbanization and the lack of support of such growth, there is a “retreat of state”; more commonly known as “social disorganization”, youth come together as organization to fulfill their needs. The lack of the formal institutions lead to youth groups to emerge and “take care” of their ethnic groups in their new world. Eventually, these groups gain control of territories and provide for their people; they learn to take care of themselves without any set institutions in place – also becoming institutionalized along the way.

With the said factors in place, youth organizations cannot afford to falter under changes with society. If this was the case, then many impoverished groups that lived in the slums would die out quickly. Rather, gangs turn to institutionalization to remain stable and able to adapt to change. To do so, organizations, or gangs, “develop rituals and ceremonies… produce a formal… structure with rules and role expectations, its members identify with the organization” (Selznick/Hagedorn). By developing their own identity, loyalty of members is strengthened and “work” for the organization is completed. This mindset makes institutionalized gangs adaptable to any change. Therefore, certain gangs can last generations after generations.


Does this concept ring a bell? With the work at Homeboy and USC BEP, I have come to know that there are hundreds of different gangs – in Los Angeles alone. Some, we all know [Crips, Bloods, MS13], others, we have never heard of. I believe that this concept of institutionalization applies to these long-lasting, international gangs. Had it not been for their organization and structure, the Crips, Bloods, MS13 would not be as “successful” as they are now. Now, on the other hand, there are some gangs that will never see the light of celebrity. Is it because they’re not institutionalized? Maybe not violent enough? I wonder if the unknowns want to be known? … Maybe reading more of this book can help clarify some of these questions.


To begin…  my greatest apologies for going on a blogging break for the past few months. However, I am back and with much material to write about! Re-joining forces with the BEP team, I’m very excited about the new additions and changes in the program [more about BEP will be updated in another post]. I also recently have decided that I need to read more about this topic on my own and gather as much information as I can – not just psychological articles but whatever I can find. On that note, I have just purchased a book by John M. Hagedorn titled A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture.

For the more than a billion people who now live in urban slums, gangs are ubiquitous features of daily life. Though still most closely associated with American cities, gangs are an entrenched, worldwide phenomenon that play a significant role in a wide range of activities, from drug dealing to extortion to religious and political violence. In A World of Gangs, John Hagedorn explores this international proliferation of the urban gang as a consequence of the ravages of globalization. Looking closely at gang formation in three world cities-Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, and Capetown-he discovers that some gangs have institutionalized as a strategy to confront a hopeless cycle of poverty, racism, and oppression. In particular, Hagedorn reveals, the nihilistic appeal of gangsta rap and its street ethic of survival “by any means necessary” provides vital insights into the ideology and persistence of gangs around the world. This groundbreaking work concludes on a hopeful note. Proposing ways in which gangs might be encouraged to overcome their violent tendencies, Hagedorn appeals to community leaders to use the urgency, outrage, and resistance common to both gang life and hip-hop in order to bring gangs into broader movements for social justice.

Professor and author Hagedorn offers an interesting view on gangs and gang life. I am very interested in what the book has to offer; no doubt you will be reading several posts about what I learn from this book as well.


Last November, I was able to take part of a tour of two juvenile camps with the USC: BEP study that I have been working with. This visit was especially insightful to what the kids that I work with go through when they are locked up in the camps. Without having a sense of what a juvenile camp is like, there would have been a disconnect from myself and my knowledge and the youth and their experiences.

The BEP researchers drove up to La Verne, California to take a tour of Camp Paige and Camp Afflerbaugh. For those who don’t know what a juvenile camp consists of, I will try to break it down as much as I can. On first inspection, it looked like we had arrived to a summer camp. The outside and surrounding areas looked exactly like the camps that I used to go as a girl scout. However, upon closer inspection and starting up the tour, I knew it was going to be different from the summer camps I attended as  kid.  We started the tour walking through Camp Paige, which is reserved for the younger juvenile youth ages 12 -16. The campgrounds were quiet and serene, the sun was shining bright and you could hear the birds calling out that morning. This was a strange sight being that I had anticipated a harsher environment. At the moment, the kids were in the classrooms for their daily school/schoolwork so we headed over to the adjoining Camp Afflerbaugh to learn about the Forestry Program that had for the older kids [ages 16-18].

Camp Afflerbaugh is unique in the sense that it is the only juvenile camp that allows the youth to be let off grounds. They have administered a Forestry Program so that the youth are able to acquire job related training during their stay and become productive members of society upon their release. We met with the Captain of the department, answering any questions we had about the program, he went through how the program works at the camp.

The Forestry program works in conjunction with the Probation Department camp guidelines and provides the camp youths an opportunity to participate in a work crew environment that emphasizes Urban Forestry and Horticulture concepts. The Forestry program begins for each minor with mandatory Training Crew participation. Each minor must pass a basic physical fitness program and a series of written daily quizzes encompassing four main topics: Program Orientation, Landscape Concepts, Irrigation System Components and Chainsaw Safety/Operation. Upon graduation, minors become Forestry Crew Members and are eligible to participate on a work crews in the capacity of crew leader, sawman, bucker, tool man, or crew member. All crew members have the opportunity to earn as many as three Certificates of Achievement depending on desire and dedication to the program. Practical daily work skills and employer expectations are stressed in all training and work crew assignments in preparation of work within the private sector. Minors are encouraged to seek employment in the nursery trade, landscape business, irrigation systems or tree maintenance companies upon graduation.

Off to work like real firefighters do!

The Forestry Program is staffed Monday through Friday. Two work crews, each consisting of 13 minors and one Probation Department Juvenile Crew Instructor, are checked out from Probation at 0815hrs for their daily work assignment. After roll call and inspection, the minors are required to complete a one hour physical fitness regime to include a combination of calisthenics, stair climbing, jogging or hiking in the surrounding hills. The workday concludes by 4:00PM each day with the last hour dedicated to equipment and vehicle maintenance and cleaning.

Typical work projects have included, Burro Canyon tree removal project in Azusa Canyon, tree plantation maintenance at Bonelli Park, removal of invasive non-native plant species at the Santa Fe Dam facility, and annual brush clearance for fire safety around the entire perimeters of both Camp Paige and Camp Afflerbaugh. Throughout the year, Camp 17 crews provide support services for the Los Angeles County Fire Department Headquarters, and the Los Angeles County Fair exhibit. (

Beyond what they learn on this job they are still held accountable for their behavior under the supervision of the Crew Instructor. It is made clear to the participants that if they are to mess up, at camp or during work, they are then in danger of not being on the work crew. They are given the 3-strike rule: mess up once, you are looked after, twice, a warning, and three times, you’re out of the forestry program – something that many of the juvenile youth are very proud to be a part of. Therefore, the program provides not only job related training, it also provides incentive to not mess around during their stay in the camp and work towards a bigger goal than they had in mind when they first entered camp.

I believe that jobs and job-training, especially for the younger generations, are a strong way to motivate someone to get out of a gang or to change their lifestyles; it becomes incredibly hard to do so without the proper resources!

Finally, to close, I want to leave you with a video about Homeboy Industries and one of their more recent projects of starting a training program for the Homies to learn how to assemble solar panels on houses. Job training as success!! Check it out!

From Gangs to ‘Green Collar’.

This blog is meant to relate some of the most important things that I have learned so far from the interactions that I have made in the last few years. These interactions have made a huge impact in my life, coming from one of the most overlooked population in our society, our juvenile youth. Since my sophomore year at LMU, I have volunteered at Homeboy Industries. Spending many afternoons there, I was able to speak with many of the Homies and learn from their life experiences. Now working with a study at USC, I am continuing on with these experiences that keep my passion for working with juvenile youth strong.

I hope that by reading this blog, you too, understand what these kids go through and don’t write them off as delinquents of our society.