Mentors pave path away from gang life
By David De Rurange/KTVL.com
MEDFORD, Ore. -- Barber Alex Trujillo knows that being in a gang, or associating with gangs, can distort one's view of authority, education and team work. But it can be corrected by by a mentor who listens.
And Trujillo is using his barber chair to pump up the community's youth.
When Trujillo was a kid, he would get into a lot of trouble. He was raised by single mom who was always working. Trujillo said he didn't really have any positive role models.
"I want this place to be more of a comfort zone for people to come in and to just hang out, come in and get a haircut and talk about issues." Trujillo said, introducing his new business that's located on 1723 W. Main St. in Medford. "I never had that when I was a kid and I want other people to feel that experience."
Trujillo said a customer's experience at West Main Barbershop will be accompanied by style, art and a comfortable chair. He hopes young people, like 18-year-old Chris Pimentel, will know they can talk about anything, especially pressures from local gangs.
"I've come close to joining a gang, but I would say that was at my lowest point." Pimentel said. "Because I've seen a lot of people that I've known and I've seen them go down the wrong paths, you know, heavy into drugs, causing chaos, committing crimes, getting locked up."
Trujillo can relate to that sort of environment.
"I associated with a lot of gang members. I never physically was in a gang, but you're guilty by association usually." Trujillo said.
Trujillo would disregard authority, get into fights and receive bad grades in school. At 16-years-old, he found out he was going to be a father.
Things had to change.
Instead of associating with gang members, he found a mentor named Phil Ortega. Ortega works with the Eagle Point School District. Ortega showed Trujillo some options. One of those options was to take part in the Oregon Youth Challenge Program in Bend.
The Oregon National Guard runs the youth challenge program. It helps young people get a high school diploma in a matter of months.
"I felt like I needed that type of discipline." Trujillo said.
Trujillo completed the program before serving time in the Marine Corp.
The youth challenge program is not for everyone. It's leaders say many qualified applicants are turned away.
"It's tough to get in, but it's a worthwhile endeavor if you want your child to get back on track with their education." program director Daniel Radabaugh said. "We have a 160,000 square feet facility here. Everything we do is under one roof."
Radabaugh gave News10 a tour of the facility. In the lobby are pictures of cadets rafting, receiving awards and smiling with former President Bill Clinton. Former First Lady Laura Bush is pictured smiling with cadets too. In one room, boys were doing a team exercise by untangling ropes without letting go. In another room, girls were learning about anger management in a classroom. According to Radabauch, patience and self-control is something all the candidates will need to learn before becoming a Cadet.
A cadet from Central Point named, Cody Hopkinson, said he was helping mentor the new candidates in the program. Hopkinson said the program can help anyone gain a disciplined education, even if their background involves gang activity.
"I know those in the '541' gangs and 'Nortenos." Hopkinson said. "I've talked to some of them about coming here. Some of them are talking about coming to the next orientation to come here."
Back at the West Main Barbershop, Trujillo said he feels more accomplished after completing the youth challenge program, and now starting his own business.
There's a lot of hair to cut, but he has help.
Marc Farrell will be cutting hair with Trujillo. Farrell is from San Bernadino, California. Comparing gangs from Southern California to the Rogue Valley, he said he's noticing more gang activity.
"It's starting to get bad out here, from what I see, and how long I've been here." Farrell said. "The best advice I could give is to stay away from it, try to find that mentor or that person who will help you out."
When school is back in session, bring your report card to Trujillo. Kids who get a 3.5 to 3.95 G.P.A. will receive a $3 discount. A 4.0 G.P.A. gets a $5 discount. To contact Alex Trujillo at West Main Barbershop call (541) 773-FADE (3233). For more information about the Oregon Youth Challenge Program click here.
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