Two months ago, Adriana and Ricardo Martinez were earning F’s at North Park Middle School in Pico Rivera. Adriana, 13, had problems with truancy, and Ricardo, 12, was acting out in class. The brother and sister were referred by their principal to the Pico Rivera Sheriff’s Station and became part of PRIDE, a mentoring and education program for 12- to 15-year-olds. Now, Adriana and Ricardo both have A averages. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.Alex Mata, clergyman for the station and executive director for the program, said the 28 children in the program have experienced a change in attitude during the nine-week course. “At the beginning they didn’t want to be here,” Mata said. “The first day, you could cut the tension with a knife. This is a whole shift in their paradigm.” Mata said PRIDE, which stands for Pico Rivera Individual Development in Ethics, was an idea born out of his ride-alongs with deputies who were responding to domestic violence calls from parents having difficulty with their teenage children. Youths are referred to the program by teachers, principals and parents. After several months of planning, the first PRIDE class began in April of this year and graduated after nine weeks. Now, the second class is nearly finished, and will graduate Wednesday. “We don’t only plan on working with the kids during these nine weeks, but we want to continue,” said Sgt. Steve Sanchez, who also heads the program. “The goal is to motivate them to go to college.” The program focuses on providing a mentor to each young person and involving them in fun group activities and community service, as well as making them examine the consequences of choosing gangs and crime. “We believe if they’re left alone, they’ll need intervention later,” Mata said. The youths are taken to bowling nights and movies, as well as Skid Row in Los Angeles and the county morgue. One important event in the program includes being “arrested” and kept in jail for a few hours, to show the teens what the experience is like. “This isn’t just a scared-straight program,” Mata said. “This is a vital program for our community since we are No. 2 in the state for gang-related deaths, after Compton.” Sanchez said the other crucial part of PRIDE is the participation of the 14 mentors who go with their charges to two functions every other week and meet outside the program weekly to talk and be a friend. “The mentors are given the task of working with their mentees, keeping in contact with them while they’re in the program, just trying to keep with them and keep them motivated to do well,” Sanchez said. Gina Delallata, 39, said she volunteered to help because she understands the teens in the program. “If I can help out a youth, it brings me joy,” Delallata said. “I have children and I am a single mom. The parents have told me that they’ve seen an improvement.” Mata said funding for the program is still limited. “We’re doing this on a shoestring budget,” Mata said. “We’re already having capacity problems.” A waiting list has begun for parents and teens interested in PRIDE, and local businesses and clubs are being asked to donate. The Maria Hicks Scholarship Fund, founded in honor of a woman who was killed confronting a vandal in her neighborhood, has also raised almost $14,000 for the teens in the program to go to college. The organizers acknowledge that the program does not have a perfect success rate. Eight students have been suspended from school while in the program and two have been expelled, but most are making improvements. Sanchez said he does not expect to see overnight change, but wants to give teens a chance to make better choices. “Are we going to reach every single kid? No,” Sanchez said. “But if we can change the course for the majority of these kids, it makes a difference.” [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3029 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!