My friends thought I was crazy to move my wife and five children to Antioch three years ago. I can’t blame them. I read the headlines, and I know what people think of our city. But I also know that everything is not as it seems.
Our move to Antioch worked out great. We live in a large, beautiful home on a quiet street. Our neighborhood, like our city, is extremely diverse, and I’m grateful that my kids aren’t growing up among clones of themselves. We know our neighbors and they’re wonderful. Our two youngest boys attend Carmen Dragon Elementary School and love it.
However, I realize my experience is not like everyone else’s. As a vice president of a public relations and marketing firm, I’m fortunate to work from home, so I’m around my kids constantly. Many Antioch parents do not have this opportunity, which means their kids often come home to empty houses—or they find somewhere else to go or something else to do.
As a member of Carmen Dragon’s school site council, I learned Carmen Dragon is a low performing school with a chronic student absentee problem and a host of other challenges. Nearly three-quarter of my sons’ classmates come from socio-economically disadvantaged households. Yet there is no afterschool program at Carmen Dragon or at many other schools in the district.
I’ve also learned many kids in Antioch want to play sports, but their parents cannot afford to take time off work to take them to practices or games, let alone volunteer or coach.
When we signed our boys up for CYO basketball, they weren’t going to play unless I volunteered to coach both of their teams. When I did, I discovered nearby parishes have multiple teams at each grade level. But at our parish, some grades didn’t even have a team. In fact, there is only one girls’ team for the entire parish.
This is a huge difference from Concord, where we used to live. Every school our children attended had afterschool programs. Concord also has the Community Youth Center, an enormous facility that offers all types of programs, including wrestling, cheerleading, gymnastics, tutoring for grade schools and high schools, and more. It’s super cheap and open every day until 9pm. Our three older kids, who attended school in Martinez and Pleasant Hill, had access to a Boys and Girls Club and a YMCA, which were always full of kids and activities.
Antioch has nothing like these facilities. What we do have is a large community center on Lone Tree, across the street from Dear Valley High School. It has a gym, a full-service kitchen, a ballroom and an amphitheater. It should be filled with kids every day. Yet it is often empty after 5pm, when many parents are getting off work and just beginning their long commute home.
After three years here, it’s become evident that Antioch is failing its youth. Is it really any wonder why we have higher crime rates than other cities? We can hire police officers until we’re blue in the face—no pun intended—but this won’t prevent our young people from behaviors and influences that lead to trouble.
So what does help? Study after study has proven the availability of structured, daily afterschool programs, Boys and Girls Clubs and community-based organizations targeting at-risk youth are effective at reducing crime. District attorneys, police chiefs and sheriffs across our nation support these programs because they actually improve public safety.
According to a massive, nationwide study by the Council for a Strong America, a bipartisan nonprofit comprised of law enforcement officials, military and business leaders, pastors, coaches and athletes, afterschool programs save communities at least $3 for every $1 invested by increasing a child’s future earning potential, improving their performance at school and reducing crime and welfare costs.
Recently, I sat in on a Antioch Youth Services Task Force meeting and listened to young people say they don’t feel safe at school or in the community. They want more things to do, but our city just doesn’t offer them.
I’ve also sat in on city council meetings and listened to how people thought we should spend Measure W funds. Some folks want all of the money to go toward adding more police. But until we invest in our youth, we will only be able to react to crime, not prevent the causes of it.
At the April 9th Antioch City Council meeting, citizens have a chance to tell city leaders how to allocate $14 million in Measure W money. Please show up and ask them to invest in afterschool programs, a Boys and Girls Club and juvenile crime diversion programs. Our kids’ lives depend on it.