Visalia Fights Gangs with "Fotonovelas"

VISALIA, Calif. Berenice Mendoza comes to the Whitman Village Community Center in Visalia to learn English, but it's not the only lesson she's receiving here.

When Mendoza noticed her son was becoming more rebellious and starting to dress differently, it's here that she learned the signs that her son was in the beginning stages of becoming a gang member.

John Guerrero said, "We needed a tool so that we get to the parents so that we could do some gang intervention. We needed to educate the parents."

That tool was "Fotonovelas" ... these story-books in both English and Spanish depict real-life situations.

"It's the behaviors, it's the peer group, and it's also the different clothing that they may use -- the different gangs that are out there," said Guerrero.

The Fotonovelas project was funded by the city and the Visalia Unified School District. But was the idea of the Police Chief's Hispanic Advisory Council. The department knew that parents were crucial partners in tackling Visalia's gang problem.

Det. Ozzie Dominguez said, "We can provide as much gang suppression as possible but we're hoping to affect the other side of the equation here. We want to prevent this from ever happening."

Mendoza's son is now on the right track, thanks to her watchful eye and a picture-book that showed her exactly what to look for.

The pamphlets also provide a list of resources, where parents can go for help.

When funding permits -- Visalia plans to create Fotonovelas targeting the Southeast Asian communities.

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