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SALT LAKE CITY -- A juvenile court judge spoke to an auditorium filled with concerned parents Tuesday night about keeping kids out of gangs.
Third District Juvenile Court Judge Andrew Valdez is affected every day by what he sees in his courtroom-- most recently, a 14-year-old busted for carrying a gun. He wants to change kids' lives early, at ages 9, 10 and 11, before gangs become an issue.
Jumping from display to display, the kids weren't just looking at after-school activities Monday night. According Valdez, they were looking at ways to change their lives.
"What we're hoping to do is save lives and keep them out of the juvenile court as well," Valdez said.
The judge spoke to concerned parents Tuesday night at Mountain View Elementary-- a school situated in the middle of gang crime and drive-by shootings.
"You get a lot of wannabe behaviors, kids who are trying to mimic their siblings," said the principal of the school.
Both the school's principal and Valdez agree: children need role models--mentors who will help them find positive activities that will keep them out of gangs. Valdez, himself, had one--a man who turned him from a street kid who liked to fight into a tennis player with dreams of college.
"Positive peer groups, positive role models, positive activities make a huge difference in children's lives," Valdez said.
Immediately after his speech, kids and parents headed into the cafeteria where they met with representatives from organizations like the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. Parents were grateful for the resources and the honest talk about keeping kids out of gangs.
"Unfortunately, it's every parent's worry right now," Haytham Ibrahim said.
Next up, Valdez will speak at Riley Elementary School. Administrators at other elementary schools have approached him about presenting as well.