'Every kid is at risk': Local group tries to deter kids from gangs
After a summer of gang and drug-related violence in Metro Vancouver, local groups are joining forces with school districts to try and tackle gang culture where it starts—with youth.
The Yo Boy Yo Girl Youth Initiative was started by a former Hells Angel who says kids need to be aware gang life never ends well. It may seem glamorous at first, says Joe Calendino, but it only has three endings: death, addiction or jail.
"There's no gangster island at the end of the day," Calendino told CTV News. "We really have to wake up in various different communities, not only Surrey, and have these conversations with our kids."
Metro Vancouver saw several targeted killings over the summer, including an 18-year-old shooting victim who crashed through a woman's fence in Abbotsford. The Surrey RCMP also released names of five young men who were the targets of shootings who weren't cooperating with police.
"[Kids are] starting to engage in drug usage, drug dealing," Calendino said. "We're seeing kids throughout greater Vancouver with guns."
Calendino says he knows that life from his time as a full patch Hells Angels member.
"I always had my loaded .45 with me," he said. "I had weapons charges, assault charges."
But that life eventually turned sour.
"I ended up a full on drug addict," he said. "I got kicked out of the club. I ended up out on the streets. I had nothing left."
After pulling himself up from rock bottom, Calendino started a program for youth.
Volunteers work in schools throughout Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley talking to kids about drugs, gangs and choices.
Ary Azez went through the program when he was in school in Surrey, and now he volunteers with it.
"When I was in high school about five or six years ago, there was a lot of gang mentality that was prevalent," Azez told CTV News.
He says he sees kids these days try to mimic gang culture they see on TV or in music videos. They'll form cliques and exclude others.
"You'll have these kids that'll try and claim a school or territory as their own and anyone that disrespects this will be dealt with," Azez said.
The program he volunteers with helps kids stay clear of gang life by running after school recreational activities like martial arts as well as providing peer support and connections to jobs.
Now that he's volunteering as an adult, Azez said he sees the growing gang problem—and says parents can't be naïve.
"The truth is, as long as you're living in a city like Surrey or Vancouver, every kid is at risk," he said.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Alex Turner