The scene at Wilson Field on the Chapman University campus in Orange was nothing short of remarkable.
Dozens of elementary school kids were playing soccer in a stadium usually reserved for college athletes, and the kids were high-fiving with the Orange police officers and Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies who were coaching them.
This was the OC GRIP program in action.
OC GRIP is an acronym for Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership, and the program is exactly what the name implies. The partnership includes the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, and schools, all joining forces to get children at risk of joining gangs back on the right path.
The three-day soccer camp culminated April 4 at Chapman University and included about 120 kids from Orange, Anaheim, Garden Grove, and Stanton schools. The camp was designed to keep the youngsters occupied during spring break.
Orange Police Chief Tom Kisela was among the local dignitaries who spoke to the players.
“We’re here to help you,” Kisela said. “If you ever need anything from us, all you have to do is ask and we’ll be there to help.”
Orange PD School Resource Officer Augie Rocha, who assists with the GRIP program for Orange PD, sees a difference in the kids’ attitudes after working with them for just three days.
“They are like my kids,” Rocha said. “They need positive reinforcement. I’ve told them that it takes so much more effort to be negative than to be positive. We’re trying to bring them into a team concept.”
Assistant District Attorney Tracy Miller, who administers GRIP for the Orange Unified School District, said children go to school in gang neighborhoods that aren’t too far from Chapman University.
“Bringing them on campus changes the way they view the world,” Miller said.
When organizing the soccer camp, GRIP purposely makes teams composed of kids from different cities, Miller said.
“We mix them together so that they know they don’t have to hate kids from different cities,” she said. “They are just like them.”
Chapman University rarely opens its athletic facilities to programs not connected to the university, but University President Daniele Struppa said it was easy to make an exception for GRIP.
“I think GRIP is a very important initiative,” Struppa said. “We care a lot about these kids. Many of them struggle with family situations and we like to be able to lend a hand. We like to work with the police department because they are doing a terrific job. They are really members of the community.”
Victoria Rojas, a sixth grader at Walter Elementary School in Anaheim, may have said it best: “It’s cool that there are lot of kids enjoying it and having fun and learning how to play soccer.”