Got Busted? On Drugs? In a Gang? This Rec Department Wants You: No Limits to Rec's Reach

Patrick Boyle
May 1, 2000

Here are some of the programs run by the At Risk Youth Division of the Phoenix Department of Parks, Recreation and Libraries:

Criminal Justice

First Offender Program: Youths accused of certain status or misdemeanor offenses (such as shoplifting and disorderly conduct) in Maricopa County Juvenile Court are offered this program instead of being assigned to a probation officer. Youths and parents attend workshops on decision-making and the “power of choice,” and serve eight hours of community service.

Project Scrub: Court-ordered community service mostly for repeat offenders. This was originally designed for youths charged with graffiti vandalism, but it has been expanded to include other offenses. Community service can be up to 400 hours, and includes painting out graffiti, cleaning along roadways and harvesting food for food banks.

Juvenile Curfew Program: Youths picked up for curfew violations are brought to recreation centers to await pickup by parents or guardians. Rec staffers handle intake and assess whether the youths and their families should be referred for services regarding issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence and pregnancy. First-time offenders can stay out of court by entering a diversion program that includes workshops on decision-making and conflict resolution, and parenting classes for the offenders’ parents.


RIP: The Recreation Internship Program gives youths 30 hours of job skills training and 90 hours of practical experience in recreation department programs. The youths are paid for their work, and when the internships end they can compete for entry-level part-time work in the department.

X-Tattoo: A tattoo-removal program for youths and adults (most of whom got their tattoos as teens), this program focuses on ex-gang members or people who believe that their tattoos are impeding their efforts to get good jobs. The service (valued at about $450 for each removal) is free to youths, but they must complete 16 hours of community service, attend workshops on topics such as job hunting, personal finance and GED courses (taught by rec staff or community organizations, such as the Center Against Sexual Abuse) and set personal goals (such as to improve school attendance and to quit smoking). Eight plastic surgeons donate their time, using repeated (and painful) laser treatments. The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board runs a similar program, Tattoo Removal for Youth.

Rec and Youth Development

City Streets Mobile Unit: This 17-ton, 35-foot long recreational vehicle visits neighborhoods and schools around the city to bring rec activities and referral services to kids. The vehicle is staffed by youth workers and equipped with books, a powerful stereo system (to blast music outdoors) and sports equipment. Several computers allow kids to play games or do homework.

PAL: This former police department program is run by the Rec Department in facilities such as Boys & Girls Clubs. The centers focus on educational, social and employment-related activities for youths age 10-18, and attempts to serve as early intervention for kids in gangs. The centers are staffed by rec department personnel, although police officers still participate in PAL activities.

River Rampage: Eight youths with disabilities are teamed with eight at-risk youths (mostly ex-gang members) in rafting and camping trips along Arizona rivers, lasting a week or more. Each teen must be nominated and complete 40 hours of community service before going on a trip. The objectives include expanding the horizons for all of the youth, and teaching them about teamwork, empathy and their own abilities.


Operation AIM (Attendance is Mandatory): Youth cited for truancy can avoid going to court by attending this diversion program. It includes family counseling and workshops on parenting skills, decision-making, communications and self-esteem. The objective is to get the youth and family committed to the youths’ education, and help the family develop methods for resolving family problems.

Accept the Challenge: A prevention program for high school students who seem at risk of dropping out (because of poor grades or excessive absences, for instance). The program includes bi-weekly classroom sessions on a variety of topics, college campus tours, and small college scholarships for those who complete high school.

Boyle, Patrick. "Got Busted? On Drugs? In a Gang? This Rec Department Wants You: No Limits to Rec's Reach." Youth Today, May 2000, p. 43.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.