L.A. parks program helps kids, economy


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    L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa embraces kids particpating in the Summer Night Lights program.

    - Tyrone D. Washington

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    Teens at Jim Gilliam Park in southwest Los Angeles during the Summer Night Lights program, which aims to reduce gang activity in the inner city.

    - Jeff Tyler/Marketplace

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    Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa with kids from the Summer Night Lights program.

    - Tyrone D. Washington

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    L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa talks with teens participating in the Summer Night Lights program.

    - Tyrone D. Washington

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    Reporter Jeff Tyler interviewing L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as they tour Jim Gilliam Park in Los Angeles.

    - Tyrone D. Washington

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: With the state of California billions of dollars in the hole, programs and services are getting slashed everywhere. In the midst of all that, one Los Angeles program has actually expanded. Marketplace's Jeff Tyler takes us to
"Summer Night Lights."


Jeff Tyler: Two years ago, the Jim Gilliam Park was gang territory. But now it serves the whole community. DJ's play music. Teens play soccer. Cooks pass out free meals.

Cook: It's like a chicken sandwich. Like a Sloppy Joe, but with chicken. It's very good.

Summer Night Lights keeps parks open until midnight, and keeps kids off the streets. But it's about more than recreation. It also provides jobs and training for about 160 older teens who might otherwise be drawn to gangs. Guillermo Cespedes oversees Summer Night Lights, which includes 16 parks.

Guillermo Cespedes: Some of the training is mind-set training. There's financial literacy. We help them open up a bank account.

Teens earn about $3,500 for the summer. The program teaches guys like 18-year-old Matthew Hill to use the money wisely.

Matthew Hill: We're not used to getting paid like 500 at one time. It come quick, so we might just spend it real quick. So they teach us how to save and open up a bank account, and do different things with our money.

The program is funded by a public-private partnership. It costs about $175,000 for each park.

I recently toured the Jim Gilliam Park with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Antonio Villaraigosa: This program, last year, helped to reduce the violence in the summer dramatically.

Overall, the murder rate dropped 86 percent in communities around these parks. And at this one in particular...

Villaraigosa: There were six homicides around this park the year before. Last year, there were zero.

The program saves lives and money. A murder investigation typically costs the city more than a million dollars -- five times what it costs to run the program at a park all summer. Violence also drives businesses away. Steve Zipperman is a Los Angeles police officer.

Steve Zipperman: This homicide has caused concern for this store over here, who decides, 'Maybe I'll shut my doors.'"

Summer Night Lights runs through Labor Day. If he can raise the money, the mayor plans to expand the program to more parks next summer.

In Los Angeles, I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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