On the frontline of Anaheim’s battle against graffiti is Carmen Martinez, an Anaheim High School senior who plans to study government at Cornell University next year.
Joining her is Anaheim High classmate Erick Samayoa, 17, who earned a full scholarship to The Citadel military academy and Valentin Ortiz, a Valencia High School football star headed to the University of La Verne.
The scholars are among 16 Anaheim teen-agers who comprise Police Chief John Welter’s Anaheim Youth Advisory Council and play a key role in the Anaheim Community Anti-Graffiti Effort.
“What is graffiti?” Martinez asks rhetorically. “It’s a form of violence, and we don’t want it in our community.”
The group has spent hundreds of hours delivering anti-graffiti messages to elementary school children.
“They are doing a great job,” Welter said. “Who better than these talented high school students – role models to the younger generation – to provide this important curriculum.”
The effort is making a difference. Calls to a confidential graffiti hotline are up. So are court referrals for convicts assigned to community service. And overall awareness among Anaheim’s youngest children has never been higher, city officials say.
The teen-agers plan to put 350 children through the six-session curriculum by the end of August.
“We want to help our community,” Jesse Gutierrez, a University of California, San Diego-bound sociology student and chair of the youth council.
Gutierrez is also benefitting from the program. He earned a $5,000 Disney scholarship for the “Graffiti Hurts” curriculum, which he helped develop. It includes a Monopoly-style board game – a fun way to illustrate the damage taggers do.
Joe Perez, Anaheim’s Community Services Supervisor of Youth Development Programming, said most of the students are also police explorers or involved with Project S.A.Y. (Support Anaheim’s Youth) program.
Michelle Rodriguez is one of them. The Magnolia High school senior hopes to become a police officer after earning a criminal justice degree from Cal State Fullerton.
“It is a great program,” she said. “We’re learning a lot about leadership.”
The group’s officers are:
Chairman – Jesse Gutierrez
Vice Chair – Carmen Martinez
Treasurer – Angie Abarca
Secretary – Manuela Herrera
Vice Secretary – Michelle Rodriguez
Also attending last week’s meeting from Anaheim High School was senior Bryan Ortiz, juniors Andrea DeGuzman, Kevin Anaya and Jimena Galvan; sophomore Demetrio Gonzalez and Fatima Gutierrez, and Juan Iturbide. From Valencia High was senior Hector Guevara and from Katella High was senior Rosalva Rodriguez.