Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News

Part 6:
What Businesses and 
Business Organizations Could Do

A recent study surveyed 67 companies and corporations in "a major city in the southern U.S." The researcher found "Eighty-eight percent of the businesses were affected by gang-related crime in the city, ranging from reduction of productivity to safety of employees. Subjects were aware of the effect of gangs on the local community (69%), schools (49%), and girls' desire to join (70%). Results highlight the need for a corporation-based approach to gang prevention, which would emphasize job and job training opportunities and reach-out strategies to gang members and 'wanna-be's,' as well as provide assistance to those employees (parents) whose children attend schools with gang-related problems." (Wang, 2000, color added for emphasis.)

One of the engines that drives a community is its economy. Without a healthy economy, families cannot support themselves, faith institutions and their outreach programs cannot be created, schools cannot be built nor teachers hired, and no infrastructure can be constructed or meaningfully maintained (i.e., parks, streets, water systems, sidewalks, electrical power).

The business community consists of both private businesses and the various organizations to which some business owners and employees belong (i.e., the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and Kiwanis). Local businesses hold one of the numbers to the combination which unlocks and nourishes a community's future. The other social institutions hold the other numbers to the combination. Without a proper upbringing (family and faith), sufficient knowledge (schools), and a job (the business sector), a child has little hope of succeeding. Businesses play a vital role in providing an incentive to work, job training, job opportunities, and advancement for everyone in the community.

The primary obligation and purpose of any business is to make a profit for its owners, shareholders (if any), and employees. Businesses must also give back to the community - to help strengthen and improve it. By doing so, they are assured of their future existence, continued profits, and enhance their image in the eyes of the public they serve. In this sense, businesses are a community partner and responsible for participating in efforts to address community issues. As Wang found, businesses have a vested interest in reducing gang activity and youth violence.

The following are some of the ways in which individual businesses and business organizations do or could participate in helping reduce gang activity and youth violence. Many of them are tax deductible if the agencies they support qualify. The solutions have been divided into two categories: workplace-based solutions and community-based solutions.

Workplace-Based Solutions

bulletAdopting a course (such as Economics) in a local school:
Everybody wins when the businesses and schools work together. A business can adopt a specific course in a school in which students are taught skills and knowledge related to the kind of work done in the business. A valuable lesson is learned by simply providing the teacher and students in that course with on-site opportunities to see how what the students are learning is put into practice. For example, a stockbroker could invite the Economics class to visit his or her company.

bulletBringing students/teachers into the work place: 
Some of the violence exhibited by youths is a result of their frustration at failing to "fit in" in a society which requires ever increasing levels of skill and knowledge to enter the world of work. It behooves business owners to think of ways to bring children into the work setting to learn what legitimate work is. This may involve welcoming teachers and students to the workplace or finding ways to take the workplace to the classroom.

a) Business owners could call the local middle-school and let the principal know of their interest in having students and teachers visit their place of business to see how business is done. They can shadow selected workers and learn how products are designed, made, and/or sold and why businesses are so important to a community.

b) Or business owners can bring their businesses to the classroom, or a chart of how their businesses are conducted. They could create a video of their business operations and share it with the students.

The point of these exercises is to give children an accurate perception of what work is, what kinds of legitimate work there are, why people work, the kinds of work some people do, and to develop an interest and excitement in the students for working.

bullet Involving student interns:  
Student interns (high-school and/or college) are supervised by both the business owner/supervisor and their teachers and are required to work at the business for a specified period of time. Whether the students get paid is up to the business' agreement with the schools.

When businesses involve student interns from area high schools the students learn on-the-job skills, the work ethic, experience success in working, establish contacts in the world of work, create a track record of working, clarify their career goals, and obtain letters of reference for future employment. Programs for students in the 9th and 10th grade are particularly meaningful as they support an interest in staying in school.

bulletProviding job training and placement:
Among interventions which Spergel and others
(1994) felt were effective at reducing gang activity was "Vocational training and job placement for gang members" because it "supported their efforts to hold jobs." (Spergel et al., 1994, p. 14)  They also found that "Pairing gang members with local businessmen (some of whom belonged to gangs at one time)" was an effective method of intervention. "These businessmen provide support and guidance as well as a positive role model to the gang member to channel energies into positive activities."  (Spergel et al., 1994, p. 14) 

bullet Sponsoring a Kids at Work Program: 
Encourage employees to bring their school-age children to the workplace for the last hour of the working day (after school) perhaps two or three times a year. The purpose of the Kids at Work Program is for all children to learn more about work and the workplace, the work their parents do, and the link between getting a good education and finding a good job.

bullet Maintaining a family-friendly workplace: 
A family-friendly workplace helps strengthen families through flexible working hours, family leave time, at-work celebrations of anniversaries and births, recognition of losses (i.e., a death in the family, illness), and employee family social functions after working hours. A family-friendly workplace nurtures the families of the workers thus producing families which are less stressed. The result, for those who have families and children, is, perhaps, a healthier family. Healthy families may produce fewer delinquents and gang members.

bulletReaching out to good kids from impoverished settings:  
Most low-income youths are at-risk of much that is troubling. The reason for a business to be involved with children from impoverished settings is to provide them with hope and something constructive to do as a means of insulating them against the negative influences around them. Businesses can help good kids stay good and become responsible adults. By offering these young people summer employment and/or part time work during the school year businesses help give them hope. They may even be grooming future employees.

bulletWorking with agencies that help high-risk youth: 
Some of the local youth-serving agencies in your community may be trying to help high-risk youths change their lives. You can assist them by providing employment opportunities for their clients. Hope Now For Youth provides opportunities an
d support for young men who want to break their ties with gangs, by changing their lives and becoming productive, responsible, and law-abiding parents and citizens. Scroll to the bottom of their Web page to see a list of the business which have employed Hope Now at-risk youth.

bulletEncouraging employee involvement: 
Businesses could implement policies which encourage employees to get involved in community service activities. Businesses could also build community service into the evaluation process of an employee's work to emphasize the business' commitment to the welfare of the community-at-large. Employees could volunteer, contribute needed items, have a bake sale, or help youth-serving agencies in many other ways.

bulletHonoring local youth:  
Businesses could honor local youth by including them in their advertising or inserting an announcement about select youth in their monthly mail. They could celebrate their successes (i.e., playing on a winning team, winning a scholarship, reaching a certain goal) along with the success of their businesses.  

Field Note: I watched a television commercial for a bank while I was on the road conducting my research. The president of the local bank stood before the camera with a ninth-grader who had just won a science award at school. With his arm draped over the student's shoulder, the bank president proudly said "We're here to give you award-winning service ... much like Billy (turning his head to look at Billy), who recently won his high school's science award for his wonderful work in the biology lab, we work to give you our best." 

The smile on Billy's face was unforgettable. Keeping good kids good means recognizing their accomplishments and encouraging them to continue on the path they have chosen. I thought this was a very effective and public way to do that.

bulletDonating old computers and paying the monthly service provider fee:
When it comes time to replace computers at one's place of business, out of date but working computers could be donated to a local youth-serving agency and a commitment to paying the monthly provider fee could also be made. Both may be tax deductible. The computers will become a resource for the agency as it searches for and prepares grants, gathers and presents information for staff and clients, and enhances communication between agencies (through email). The youth it serves may also use the Internet for instructional, job seeking, or other purposes.

Community-Based Solutions

bulletImproving race/ethnic relations in the community:
As you read earlier, discrimination is one of the root causes of the formation of gangs. Local business organizations can improve race/ethnic relations and make their communities better places to live.
"When Michael Hampton became president of the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids in 1997, he brought with him an aversion to racism and a determination to unite with other leaders who were addressing the issue. The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce already had formed a cultural diversity committee and was organizing an ongoing program called the Institutes for Healing Racism. So the Grand Rapids club formed its own Healing Racism Committee and supported the chamber's efforts." (Rotary International, no longer on the Internet)

bulletSupporting local mentoring efforts:
By clicking on Company Support you will be able to see a list of the businesses that support Be a Mentor, a program which facilitates the mentoring of both adults and school children. By calling the local office of juvenile services or the probation/parole office a person can find out which agencies are providing mentoring services.

bulletServing on youth-serving agency boards: 
Unless a community is very small, there is at least one youth-serving agency. In communities of 100,000 or more residents, there are probably dozens of these agencies. They all need the support of local businesses - particularly the help of business people who have good ideas, work collaboratively, and bring to the agency skills and knowledge that will advance the agency's efforts. Participation on an agency board takes only as much time as one wishes to give and will likely return rewards in excess of the efforts expended. A list of appropriate agencies may be found in the local Yellow Pages under "Social Service and Welfare Organizations," or the local office of juveniles services or probation/parole office could be called.

Street Tech is a nonprofit organization offering free computer training, certification, and job placement for selected 18-40 year old students from disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Street Tech students participate in an intensive 6-month technical and life skills training program, for 16 hours per week, after which they are transitioned into entry-level computer jobs. You can see the list of business leaders who serve as Advisors and Fundraisers on the Street Tech board.

bullet Sponsoring the development of a community-wide youth trust:
Individuals, businesses, organizations, trust funds, and other entities could contribute money to a local Youth Trust. A Youth Trust dedicates only the interest earnings on its capital to promoting efforts to improve the quality of life of local youth. This life-long trust fund could make a significant contribution towards supporting existing agencies and help seed new and needed ones.

bullet Sponsoring a community- or neighborhood-wide social or cultural activity for youth:
Businesses could sponsor an arts festival, parade, concert-in-the-park, bike race, marathon, 5k, or any one of a hundred different events. Each event could be sponsored by event-appropriate businesses (athletic equipment stores for sports-related events, modeling shows sponsored by area clothiers, an arts festival sponsored by art suppliers and museums). This provides another healthy activity for local youth and a means of advertising products and services. Throw in a concession that designates a portion of its proceeds to local youth-serving agencies and you have a real winner!

bulletPaying entrance fees for impoverished children:
In one community I visited a local business owner became the member of a board which was overseer of a residential group home (the group home was for high-risk boys and provided them with an education, daily counseling, and a chance to change their lives). Out of his own pocket, the business owner bought tickets to a local amusement park for all the youth in the group home and the staff. The cost was insignificant when measured against the joy the youths experienced in the park, the respite from stress it provided the staff, and the satisfaction all of that brought the business owner. And his contribution was tax deductible.

bulletSponsoring a community agency:
"The Korean Youth & Community Center (KYCC) is a non-profit, community-based organization that has been serving the Korean American Community since 1975. KYCC's programs and services are specifically directed towards recently-immigrated, economically-disadvantaged youth and their families who experience coping and adjustment difficulties due to language and cultural barriers."
(KYCC, page) You can see which companies are among the Partners and Supporters of KYCC. 

bulletDedicating a portion of the business's profits to help at-risk youth:
"Established in 1998, Growing Prospects Inc. is a non-profit corporation that has set out to provide individuals on income assistance with the job and life skills necessary to help them find full-time employment in the horticulture and greenhouse industries. That alone is a goal worth striving for but Growing Prospects does even more to benefit the community.
As the business grows and becomes self-sustaining all profits will be redirected to support inner-city gang prevention and encourage youth employment." See the bottom of the program's website for contact information.

A business can adopt a youth-serving agency (i.e., a child abuse center, counseling center, literacy center) and concentrate its efforts on just that one agency. The business could include information about the agency in customer mailings, inform customers of youth violence issues and solutions to them, and even encourage customers to support that agency.

bulletProviding scholarships to college for deserving youth:
A business could support ninth and tenth graders in the public schools who have excelled academically and shown a propensity for community service  with scholarships to the college of their choice (even a $500 scholarship comes in handy when it's time to buy books). Keeping good kids good is as important, or more important, than helping good kids who are behaving badly. Dangling a college scholarship in front of a ninth or tenth grader motivates them to stay in school and continue performing well.

"In 2001, Richard D. King assumed the presidency of Rotary International. One of the most pivotal moments in Rick's life came when he was 11 years old. As he explains: 'Our family did not have much money, and I didn't know how I was ever going to get to college. I was taking free swimming lessons at the YMCA when a member of the local Optimist Club came and was looking for boys to enter the club's speech contest.

'The prize was a $1,000 college scholarship. I jumped out of the pool and volunteered although I had never given a speech in my life. The club member was a funeral director who made me rehearse at his funeral parlor. He would sit on one side of the room, and I would practice my speech on the other side with the caskets in-between us. And he would say to me that he wanted the speech to be so good it would raise the dead!

'That man changed my life. I won third place at their international convention, a $500 scholarship. It was the beginning of many speech contests and an education in the value of being able to communicate effectively. But far more importantly, he taught me the value of a service club and unselfish giving, and how one person can change forever the life of another human being.'" (Rotary International, page)

The health care community, particularly mental health professionals, also have a role to play in the reduction of gang activity and youth violence. That's our next topic of discussion.


Additional Resources: Here's something for the arts community to do which may contribute to reducing delinquency, gang activity, and youth violence.

2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.