Visalia teenager inspiring peers with help of PAL program

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- A South Valley teenager is already being considered a leader -- long before graduating high school.

You quickly learn while talking to Julian Venegas that he's pretty smart.

"If I need to study I will, but most of the time I catch it quick," Julian said.

The Redwood High School junior has an impressive 4.3 GPA, and he gives credit to two things: the Visalia P.A.L. program and his mom.

"I want my kids to have what I didn't have -- a better education," said Margaret Sandoval, Julian's mom.

Sandoval emphasizes school first for all her kids. They're also involved with the Visalia Police Activities League.

"I don't want my boys to be out on the streets doing something that they're not supposed to, and when they're at the P.A.L. program I know exactly what they're doing," said Sandoval.

Visalia Police Officer Art Villarreal leads the P.A.L. program. He says it's the most rewarding position he's had with the police department.

"Kids come here, they come from at-risk areas where they see gang violence and drugs almost on a daily basis," said Villareal.

And it's here that Julian has become a leader -- convincing kids to work hard.

"School is the stepping stone to being successful. You have to be good at school, not necessarily good at school, but you have to at least try," he said.

Now, Julian has a new stepping stone in front of him. He was nominated to go to a science conference in June in Boston. The family's working to raise the money. He's hopeful going will bring him one step closer to his dream career.

"I want to hopefully be a successful architect/engineer," Julian said.

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