It wasn’t your stereotypical graduation “moment.”
When the 125-student VIDA Class No. 25 assembled for its official graduation ceremony in June at Belvedere Middle School in East Los Angeles, the father of one of the graduating students approached Sgt. Mark Cripe of the Vital Intervention Directional Alternatives program.
“He told me that, before VIDA, he and his son — living under the same roof — had not spoken in two years,” Cripe said. “They literally had not shared any communication in two years.”
Those are the kinds of challenges VIDA faces with each of its classes. VIDA is a 16-week academy-style program for nonviolent, medium- to high-risk youths ages 11 to 17, with the goal of setting them on a crime-free path toward responsible adulthood. Many come from broken homes or lack parental involvement, and are often referred to VIDA by courts and other government agencies.
The VIDA deputies have found that restoring family connections is often the key to success for the youths they counsel.
“The biggest thing we have to do is teach a child and a parent how to communicate again,” Cripe said. “Sometimes they don’t even know where to begin.”
The June graduation featured special guest speaker, Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo, along with the presentation of several awards, including a special honor for Finella White, a special education teacher from Palmdale who volunteers with VIDA and was recognized for her excellent work in helping the VIDA youths and their families.
The Lakewood VIDA team received the “Esprit de Corps” award, in recognition of their upset victory over Santa Clarita Valley in the VIDA Games, the program’s own Olympic-style competition.
Cripe said this spring’s VIDA Games were especially spirited. “The families really get into it. The energy is unbelievable. It’s the first time a lot of these parents have had a chance to cheer their kids on in any kind of event.”
As a whole, Cripe said, VIDA Class No. 25 overcame a bit of a rough start but finished strong. As is often the case, once those initial communication barriers were overcome, real progress was made.
“We were very proud of all the kids who graduated, raised their grades and reduced truancy,” Cripe said. “Some of those challenges are tough — and they overcame them.”
And the father who hadn’t spoken to his son in two years? Well, father and son are now talking, thanks to VIDA.
“The father was very thankful for that — for helping them get back to where they could communicate again and share,” Cripe said. “That’s a big plus for us, to get that conversation happening. For us as facilitators, that is the big reward.”