When 13-year-old Cesar Bravo entered the Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) program at the Menlo Family Center, he was chalking up tardies, struggling academically and fighting with his girlfriend at school.
He and his older sister Brenda had already attended KYCC’s elementary and middle school programs (ETP and MSP), when he was internally referred to GRYD for behavioral issues. It was clear that he was a bright student—at school, he particularly excelled in math. On tests, he would just put down the right answers, but when the teacher would ask him to show his work, not only would he refuse, but he would also argue and talk back.

At first, Cesar didn’t take GRYD seriously. He would not engage or take accountability for his actions. GRYD leader Carlos De Santiago shakes his head at the memory. “We almost closed him out,” he says, meaning KYCC nearly couldn’t find a way to help.

De Santiago works with 18 GRYD youth (ages 10-15) and their families. This unique program has him meeting with parents, principals, social workers and psychologists for a full year. He creates a genogram, a multi-generational family map that can point out possible hereditary behaviors and tendencies, but is also used to discuss family strengths and positive relationships. He meets with youth and their families several times a month, helping them learn how to communicate with one another.

Cesar’s parents and De Santiago met for months, bringing up issues such as grades, staying out past curfew and relationship problems. But Cesar obstinately kept to himself and wouldn’t talk. Furthermore, he continued to make poor choices even after goals were outlined for him.

After ten months, the Bravos saw they needed to take action. Mr. Bravo pulled Cesar out of the school he was failing at (in the middle of the school year, in the middle of the week, much to Cesar’s surprise) and placed him in a new school environment. Not knowing anyone, Cesar began to pay attention in class. Along with the newfound and cumulative openness in his family, and steady support from KYCC, Cesar began to turn around and take pride in his education.

The changes affected the family as well. Mr. Bravo missed some of the early family meetings, and when he started to show up, he wouldn’t always share his thoughts. “It was good to see his parents vulnerable too,” says De Santiago. “The meetings became a space for all to talk about things.”

This summer, Cesar, now 15, is going to volunteer for the second year in a row with the Elementary Tutorial Program at Menlo, where he helps out with classroom duties. He likes to tutor the children in math and play pickup soccer with them during breaks. He is grateful for GRYD’s personalized case management, and how it helped him talk more socially and with his parents.

Even he admits the progress was slow. But now, after realizing how much the meetings helped, he endeavors to communicate with his family outside of the GRYD meetings—talking easily about his day at school, or their day at work. Smiling, he pulls up his report card on his phone to display his As and Bs. “I saw that it was really important,” he says of his success. “I saw that I could do it.”