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Mentor Teachers Get Some Pampering

The volunteers who work one-on-one with kids who are at-risk to join a gang were treated to wine, lunch and lots of raffle prizes.

The teachers and volunteers who serve as mentors pour themselves into the lives of at-risk kids. So the organizers of the wanted to pour in them.

A little wine, that is.

“We wanted them to relax, have a glass of wine. Since they’re changing lives and they’re doing it for free, we can celebrate them,” said Deputy District Attorney Tracy Rinauro, who works full time on the GRIP program.

Representatives from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s office, and other volunteer organizations hosted a luncheonn today to treat the teachers who have been working one-on-one and meeting regularly with a kid who could end up a gang member some day.

“The reason why we do this is we want to have some fun while we’re changing the world,” said Rinauro, who served as emcee and announced a litany of raffle prizes that didn’t end until everyone had at least one.

GRIP has been around since February 2008. It brings together the school district, law enforcement, community businesses and other charities with the sole purpose of steering students in a new direction.

Rinauro began her remarks with the story of a now-ninth grader. Two years ago, she was getting into fights more than any other student at .

“She had piercings all over her face and the attitude only a seventh-grader could have,” she said. This student was “jumping girls in the bathrooms and dating gang members.”

GRIP members tried to intervene with the parents. It didn’t work. At all, Rinauro said. Then Principal Carrie Bertini suggested a teacher mentor.

Today, the girl gets straight As and has removed all her facial piercings.

“She has dreams and hopes,” Rinauro said. “You being mentors make the only difference in keeping kids from being in gangs.”

The program specifically targets cities that have a gang injunction, a restraining order that prohibits named gang members from engaging in various activities. Attorneys for the DA's office have placed gang injunctions in San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente.

Last year, the program expanded to  in Mission Viejo, because that school serves a sliver of students from San Juan Capistrano. This year, the program included for the first time , a feeder school into Newhart that serves the same, albeit younger, students.

Across the county, there are 130 elementary and middle schools that have the GRIP program, said Kristen Gaborno, GRIP program director for Community Service Programs, Orange County’s largest nonprofit.

Her organization helps parents of the identified at-risk kids with resources, parenting classes, whatever they need. “We’re the warm and fuzzy component of GRIP,” she said.

Gaborno said the kind of teacher who would volunteer to be a GRIP mentor is the “one who wants to go above and beyond, who wants to do more than just the 9-to-5.”

Rinauro noted that San Juan’s GRIP schools – , , Viejo and Marco Forster – almost 90 percent of the teachers serve as mentors.

Those are the GRIP-1 schools. GRIP 2 schools, RH Dana Elementary in Dana Point and in San Juan, receive a less intense version of the program.

Rinauro knows the program is working. Test scores at the GRIP schools are improving and truancy is way down. For example, last year, Marco Forster had about 900 truancies throughout the year. This year, that number is down to 90, she said.

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