Valley Voices

Pete Santellano: Youth need to be our priority

Pete Santellano, right, says that the success of Isidro Ochoa illustrates the power of public parks and recreation programs in the lives of youth. Isidro has been with PAL Boxing since age 8. During that time he has won seven national amateur boxing titles and has been ranked No. 1 in the United States in three weight classes. Ochoa will compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team beginning June 27.
Pete Santellano, right, says that the success of Isidro Ochoa illustrates the power of public parks and recreation programs in the lives of youth. Isidro has been with PAL Boxing since age 8. During that time he has won seven national amateur boxing titles and has been ranked No. 1 in the United States in three weight classes. Ochoa will compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team beginning June 27. Special to The Bee

I’ve seen the power of parks first hand.

As a retired Fresno police officer, I’ve seen how parks can positively impact neighborhoods and change lives — particularly young lives.

A healthy park is prevention, and prevention is more powerful than treatment and much less expensive. I believe Fresnans understand the value of parks and that an investment in parks is an investment in our youth.

What we’re able to do at Romain Playground is a great example. Now that I’m retired from the Fresno Police Department, I serve as the volunteer director of the Police Activities League Boxing Program at Romain. Without this park, we would not be able to run our program.

The PAL Boxing Program is now in its 10th year, and we are open Monday through Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. year around. We have had boxers who have represented the USA Junior Boxing Team in competition in five foreign countries —Russia, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Ukraine and Taiwan — and our boxers have attained many national titles.

But it’s not about the victories or the accolades. We have a very structured program with many rules. Our motto is “We develop champions inside and outside the ring.” Good grades and school attendance are a must, and we do not tolerate disrespect, bad attitudes or poor behavior.

Over the years, we have helped hundreds of young people through the PAL Boxing Program at Romain. I wish it were thousands of kids, but I recognize that will take an even greater investment, which is why I encourage the city of Fresno to remember the youth when they decide on a parks budget.

I’ve seen all the news reports recently about parks, but I think we should all remember that ultimately, our young residents will benefit the most. All children in Fresno need safe parks and open spaces to help them live healthy lives.

We need a comprehensive plan to make sure parks and services are improved throughout our city, and we need to do it sooner rather later. Our youth can’t wait. Parks, soccer fields, basketball courts and green space are investments in our future — our youth.

I invite the mayor and City Council members to come to Romain, see our program and meet our kids. I believe our city leaders need to see firsthand who and what they are investing in. It costs about $3,800 to $4,000 a month to keep a kid in the juvenile system, juvenile hall or a group home. This is money that can be used to create positive environments for youth.

Looking at the bottom line and being afraid to commit to kids has only led us to the bottom. The unemployment rate for young adults is extremely high. The number of youth who live in poverty is alarming. Our lack of parks, green space and recreational services is among the worst in the nation.

Our youth aren’t problems. They are people, and they need to be our priority.

Pete Santellano is a retired Fresno police officer. He served from 1969 to 2006. For 32 of those years, he worked major narcotics investigations.

  Comments