Nov. 2, 2004 A busy week on St. Croix by Guardian Angels Arnaldo Salinas and John Ayala has ended with an endorsement of their program by Elton Lewis, V.I. police commissioner.
The local Anti Crime Task Force had invited the pair to St. Croix. "We have been invited because of our successful track record," Salinas said. (For more information about the Guardian Angels go to www.guardianangels.org).
They arrived at the Henry E. Rohlsen airport on Oct. 26 and had their first public meeting at the St. Croix Educational the same evening. About 80 parents, students and other interested residents attended the Parent Teacher Student Association meeting to welcome them and hear their message.
Salinas, senior director and founding member of the 24-year-old organization, called on the community to get involved with Guardian Angels program. "You can't tackle this problem from the outside, you have to work from the inside out," he said. "Without your help there will be more violence, more drugs, and more gangs." The audience engaged Salinas and Ayala in discussions about the rising crime, the reluctance of people to volunteer and get involved in community issues and about the mission and history of the Guardian Angels.
Alvin Burke attended the meeting and described himself as a person who took time to give back to his community. In addition to being a basketball coach, Burke said he also mentors youth.
"You are a prime candidate to be a Guardian Angel," said Salinas. "Will you be the first to volunteer?"
After the session several people surrounded Salinas and Ayala, introducing themselves and pledging their support. By the end of the evening over 20 adults and teens, including Burke signed up to be a part of the local chapter of the Guardian Angels.
"By the end of the week the numbers are going to multiply," predicted Salinas.
The next day the pair embarked on a hectic schedule of school visits, meeting with private citizens and government officials, appearing on radio talk shows and making appearances at community functions.
"The community rolled out the red carpet for us," Ayala said on Sunday. Ayala said they toured several schools and spoke to many students and teachers, met several senators and political candidates, attended a community watch group meeting, attended a "Business After Hours" function and met with Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards and police commissioner Elton Lewis.
"Some places we go government officials don't want to meet with us," Ayala said. They are sometimes told to go ahead without official sanctions from the government, but they eventually all support our program because they see the results, he explained.
Following the meeting with the police commissioner, a press release was issued endorsing the efforts of the Guardian Angels.
On Sunday, commissioner Lewis attended the youth memorial march in Frederiksted. In his address he stated his support for the group saying, "The police will do everything in their power to work with the Guardian Angels."
According to the police press release, which was issued Monday night, police acknowledged the success and growth of the Guardian Angels, the concern for young men and women in the community, the need for mentoring, and the benefits of establishing of a local chapter. Throughout the discussion, it was stated that this organization could help bridge the gap between involvement and non-involvement of young people in efforts to create safe communities throughout the territory.
"I will offer my support and the assistance of the department as you develop programs and plans to establish a chapter in St. Croix," Lewis said. "I believe this would be an endeavor to steer youngsters away from the criminal element and violent behavior that plague many in our communities. Further, it will help the community at large by exposing children to a disciplined way of life which could eventually assist law enforcement to attract more persons to enter the field of law enforcement. Overall, this would be a positive endeavor for the territory."
Ayala said the statement of the police commissioner is going to help achieve the goals of establishing a chapter on St. Croix and help the police department too. "It's a proven fact that many Guardian Angels recruits go on to a career in law enforcement," Ayala said.
Plans are in place to begin the training of the over 50 volunteers who have signed up in the past seven days, Ayala said. The volunteers will receive self-defense training, and CPR and other emergency medical training. Ayala said he would be looking closely at the volunteers' leadership qualities and commitment. He plans to choose a director from the volunteers to lead the V.I. chapters. He said after the St. Croix chapter is solvent and able to stand on its own the program will expand to St. Thomas and St. John.
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