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Afterschool program, 'RESPECT', aims to help at-risk teens

The program dubbed RESPECT project, offers character-building and mentoring designed for youth in grades 8-12.

SAN DIEGO — The return to school can be challenging for some students.

An afterschool program run by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department helps kids stay on track by building long-lasting relationships with law enforcement.

Jose Jimenez, a student with the program, is part of the dozens of kids who have made their way through the department's afterschool program dubbed RESPECT project. 

The name of the program is an acronym: responsibility, ethics, service, perseverance, education, courage and trustworthiness. 

"They always pushed me to be a better me. They helped me out in middle school when I was struggling and stuff. They called me out they told me like, you know, you’re going on wrong route," said Jimenez.

Deputies launched the afterschool program in 2014. The program targets at-risk teens and helps guide them in the right direction.

“We get to see them as teenagers and playing dodgeball, playing sports with the students, taking them on field trips, just having lunch with the student, talking about real life issues. And I think those little steps help that student to really start to build more trust with law enforcement," said Dustin Nelson, San Diego Sheriff’s office deputy.

With the program’s success throughout the years, deputies were able to create a brand-new state of the art facility equipped with fitness equipment and all the competitive games such as video games, a pool table, air hockey, and even a music recording studio. 

The new facility opened in 2021.

"This is an opportunity for us to help the families help their students and just bring everyone together," said Todd Baker, San Diego Sheriff’s office deputy. 

Deputies help middle and high school students, who often times come from low income families, by giving them a safe environment to spend their time in and keeping them away from the streets.

"You could change the trajectory of a family tree," added Baker.

Students are referred by school staff or parents and a select few are chosen to take part in the respect project.

“A lot of our kids that we work with just aren't engaged at school, they might be at school, but they're not in school. And so we look at those students and try and encourage them," added Nelson.

 The students go through a 16-week character building and mentoring academy which helps bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community.

Once they graduate, those students can come back as graduates while they enter the workforce or continue their education.

Students are generally referred by local schools, probation/law enforcement, or family members.  

Students must participate voluntarily and be able to attend classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.  

All classes meet at 151 E Carmel St, San Marcos, CA 92078.

To submit a referral, click HERE.

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