On Friday, December 3, The California Wellness Foundation presented Gilbert Sanchez, director of the Gang Violence Bridging Project (based at the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles), with the California Peace Prize Award at its seventh annual awards ceremony. The statewide prize, carrying with it a $25,000 grant, was established to celebrate the courage and perseverance of California's most dedicated violence prevention advocates.
Sanchez was selected for having provided guidance and resources for young people in their communities whose opportunities for success have been thwarted by violence and poverty. Other recipients included Ruben Lizardo, educational/training director, Community Development Technologies Center, and Clara Luz Navarro, cofounder, Mujeres Unidas y Activas (United and Active Women), which operates under the auspices of the San Francisco-based Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Each of the recipients has spent many years working directly with the survivors of street violence and family violence.
Sanchez, who initiated the Gang Violence Bridging Project (GVBP), has been serving as the project director for nearly six years. With individual counseling, social support, tutoring and mentoring, the GVBP translates research findings about the causes of gang participation into programs that help young people redefine themselves.
"Many of these kids have grown up seeing their friends getting hurt or killed. They don't know how to cope with the fact that they were a victim or a witness to violence," says Sanchez. "When kids feel supported instead of judged, they begin to understand the causes of their anger and they learn to grieve. Then we expose them to different options for moving on."
Sanchez, a former gang member, says he is rewarded by seeing youth succeed in finding new sources of identity and self-respect, and in sustaining the hope needed to reach new goals. He has motivated hundreds of gang members to get back into school. Several have made the dean's list.
Sanchez spearheaded the creation of the Association of Community Based Gang Intervention Workers. Based at Cal State L.A., the association works to educate policymakers and the public about the unique value and specific skills of gang prevention and intervention workers, the majority of whom are former gang members.
Sanchez makes frequent presentations about the causes of gang and youth violence to various government and law enforcement agencies. These include instructional presentations to students at high schools, colleges and universities across the United States. He often testifies as a gang expert in court and before legislative committees. He has served as an advisor to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Among his numerous awards, Sanchez is the recipient of a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of Los Angeles, presented by Councilmember Rita Walters, and a Certificate of Recognition from Senator Richard Polanco.
The Peace Prize is awarded through the Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI), one of The California Wellness Foundation's five central grantmaking initiatives. The recipients were nominated through a confidential process. The VPI supports the critical role of individual leadership in overcoming the root causes of violence. Grantmaking activities are guided by the belief that violence must be addressed as a preventable public health problem.
One of the largest private foundations in the state, The California Wellness Foundation has awarded 1,640 grants totaling nearly $260 million since 1992 in support of its mission to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education and disease prevention.
For more information on The California Wellness Foundation, go to <http://www.tcwf.org/>. For an interview or photo of Gilbert Sanchez, please contact Morris Polan, director of Public Affairs, Pat Brown Institute, at (323) 343-3770.
Public Affairs Offices/Campus News