José Cárdenas: Good evening. I’m José Cárdenas. We will talk about a program in Glendale making sports, mentors, and tutors accessible to teens and kids. Plus, learn about an ASU student’s idea to perk up campus plant life in an environmentally conscious way. And at-risk youth get the opportunity to play the sport of handball. All this, coming up next on "Horizonte."
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José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. The Glendale Youth Project, known as GYP, is an organization helping at-risk youth. GYP provides a positive outlet for exploring new opportunities. Joining me now to talk about the program is founder and director Carlos Meza. Also here is Lena Meza, also a founder of GYP. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte." Carlos, as I understand, GYP, Glendale youth project, formerly is 4 years old, but this all grew out of something you started 20 almost years ago. Tell us about that.
Carlos Meza:I started about 1996 out of my house. I started with the boy scout pack, Jose Mendoza and Lt. Frank Balkcom the Glendale P.D. They approached me and asked me if I wanted to start a boy scout pack. I was young and I said, yeah, I'll do it. So I went on, I did it for five years. At that time, those kids were five years old so when they turned about five, they were about 10 years old so they started getting to sports so that's when I started kicking in, started doing basketball, baseball, Boxing.
Carlos Meza: Boxing yeah, I started boxing. In 1998 I started a boxing gym out of my house where I was averaging about 14 to 15 kids, little small house that I grew up at my grandma's right there in the Glendale neighborhood. And we took it from there.
José Cárdenas: And why? What was the motivation for getting involved because all this time, you worked at the Glendale school district. High school district. You have a day job and you're doing this at night. What is it that made you want to do this?
Carlos Meza: I guess I love working with kids and I guess I grew up in a neighborhood and a lot of my friends and their brothers were going to prison or turning into heroin addicts and I didn't want that, a lot of these kids that I got attached to doing boy scouts. When I started boy scouts I got attached to these kids. I fell in love with it and I wanted to give more and more and that's why we started doing it.
José Cárdenas: And Lena, you're cofounder.
Lena Meza: Uh-huh.
José Cárdenas: As Carlos said, you guys were doing this out of your house?
Lena Meza: Yeah. We started out of our house. It goes back to, you know, Carlos doesn't have a father, and I think he's always had that passion to, you know, lead kids, show them the better way. We were always involved in a program with council member Norman Alvarez. It was called ‘show them a better way’ and we were with that program for years, and I think Carlos just got hooked and there was kids that really looked up to him. He became a mentor really fast, and I think that's when we really kicked off. So our house yeah, his grandparents passed away, left us their house in the heart of Glendale, smack in the middle of the barrio and kids were in and out of our house. We always had the -- our park is in the middle, two houses to the right we have a community center, one house to our left we have a park. So we would take the kids, have them just walk all the equipment over to the park, have practice, come back to the house and unload, and then it was just an open rec.
José Cárdenas: And I understand that you mentioned you've got the Glendale recreation center just a few feet away, a few houses away. And Glendale came to you because they noticed your place was full.
Lena Meza: Yeah.
José Cárdenas: And there were not very many people using the recreation center.
Lena Meza: Yeah. Me and Carlos both had full-time jobs so it was just from 3-8pm , around to at night, we finally said you know what? Why don't we just become our own organization? So we became the Glendale youth project. We gutted out the house, Carlos actually -- I can't take any credit for it. He would go yard saling and he found pool tables, ping-pong tables, we would go yard-saling, thrift stores--so we got the center going.
José Cárdenas: You made your own center basically, your house. At some point you expanded to use the Glendale facility?
Lena Meza: Yes.
José Cárdenas: And we've got a few pictures that we want to put up on the screen showing the kids there and what they're doing. Basketball in this picture and I think we have a shot of indoors what the kids are doing. This is a volleyball team?
Carlos Meza: This is our volleyball team, our fourth through sixth grade team.
Lena Meza: We didn't make it to championships but daisy, the one in the glasses over to the right-hand side, he was on our volleyball team for the last four years. She's now a sophomore in high school and she approached us. So like I was mentioning before, our purpose is to have our younger kids, all our smaller ones at the bottom, hopefully, when they can't into high school, I want them to coach our younger guys so it's like a cycle.
José Cárdenas: We've got a few more pictures that we'll be showing as we talk, another one of the volleyball team. As I understand it, Carlos, that's a big part of the program is you get the kids who have been through it to start working with you and got another shot. I take it some of these older kids are involved helping you coach.
Lena Meza: That's a special guest.
Carlos Meza:He's the light weight mma fighter.
José Cárdenas: Which person? The one in the middle?
Carlos Meza: In the back. And that is harper in the back and that’s his brother Manny they're also my teen leaders now and Manny just got done coaching the basketball team.
José Cárdenas: As I understand it, to this day, this is all volunteer effort.
Carlos Meza: All volunteer.
José Cárdenas: What role does the city play? They provide the facility?
Carlos Meza: That's all pretty much. They provide the facility. The director for the parks and recreation, he opened up the door for us to pretty much run all our programs and the community center.
José Cárdenas:And so are you still using your house?
Carlos Meza: Not no more.
José Cárdenas: You got it in this modern facility, you're running these programs. And Lena I understand it's not just sports. You provide other services for these kids?
Lena Meza: So Carlos does the sports. We have open rec. So anyone is welcome in and out. It's not just the Glendale area.
José Cárdenas: You're talking recreation.
Lena Meza: Open recreation. Yes, we have cheer, we have hip hop, we have 197 boy scouts, we have the mighty rangers, and then we have a girls group. So my daughter is teaching the girls group and she's just, you know --
Carlos Meza: Hang out and just talk.
Lena Meza: You know, just proper etiquette, manners, being lady-like. They talk about hygiene, just -- we have a weight room in the city in the facilities so some of our high school kids just come and hang out and they lift weights in there. Carlos does boxing out of there.
José Cárdenas: How many kids do you think you touch in any given year?
José Cárdenas: Daily, daily I would say 60-70 anywhere from to come rolling in and out of the center. Just football alone, we have six teams and 25 on each team. Our volleyball team we have two volleyball teams and those are -- one has -- they range from 15 girls. We have basketball teams that range from 15 kids per team and we have five teams. So I would say maybe active, Glendale youth project kids that are rotating between sports and programs, about 350 kids.
José Cárdenas: So we've talked a lot about the kids. What about the parents, Carlos? Any involvement by them or what kind of reaction do you get from them?
Carlos Meza: We got some real good parents that have been involve with us like the harpers, Becky and Lupe harper. They've been part of our life, too. I started coaching Harper and Manny when they were six, seven years old. And they've been with us since then. And they're a big part of it.
Lena Meza: Coach Stacy.
Carlos Meza: Coach Stacy. Lupe, dominguez.
José Cárdenas: It's very much a community effort.
Carlos Meza: Exactly, it's a community effort.
José Cárdenas: And where do you get funding? How do you provide for all of this?
Carlos Meza: Our funding comes just from our parents, our own fundraisers. We do a lot of car washes, a lot of bake sales. We do like this weekend, we're going to have a horseshoe tournament to raise money for our spring football program.
Lena Meza: But our main right now is just we have a huge support system with councilman Ian Hugh, he's been amazing.
Carlos Meza: He's been a blessing to us.
Lena Meza: He came to us and, you know, he did -- we didn't have a ping-pong table so he kind of went to the center just to see what was going on and he says what are these kids playing with? You don't have any ping-pong tables. He took us out and we got basketballs, footballs, ping-pongs, basketball courts like the stand up courts.
José Cárdenas: We have the website up on the screen. I assume people can go there and get more information? Make contributions if they want?
Lena Meza: Www.Glendaleyouthproject.com. And money, we don't only ask for money donations. Used items, I tell Carlos all the time, if you come across anyone and they have used basketballs, used board games, anything they can just drop off, we can use. Right now, we're looking for sponsorships so if they don't want to just -- it's 100% deductible but if they want to sponsor a teen versus, you know, just hey, here's a check to help your organization, we would rather somebody give us a check to sponsor a basketball team of 15 kids, because we have a lot of kids that are coming to us on scholarships that can't pay to get on sports. And, you know, it costs us about $10 to get a shirt and if we're going to get a team together, it gets pricy. We have to have equipment for the coaches to practice with. We have to have basketball shorts and footballs, that's a whole beast in itself.
José Cárdenas: Carlos we're almost out of time so last question. We talked a little bit off-camera about the drug problem in this area and it seems to me that makes this program all the more important. How are you dealing with that?
Carlos Meza: I think that's one of my reasons why I target so much because a lot of my friends, they became heroin addicts or went to prison and I don’t want that to happen anymore. And our goal is to get these kids educated. Go to the service, go to college or even a trade school. You don't have to go to ASU, U. of A. You don't have to go to a top college but a trade school and become an A.C. tech. A.C. tech makes decent money in Arizona. Just become a good, moral person in life.
José Cárdenas: And this gives them a way to do that.
Carlos Meza: Exactly.
José Cárdenas: Thank you both so much for joining us on "Horizonte" talk about this wonderful program.