Toppenish GRIP working to help at-risk kids

TOPPENISH, Wash. -- Toppenish is trying to make a dent in its gang problem. The Gang Resistance Intervention Program works with dozens of kids at a time with dozens more waiting to get that attention.

It's a community working to keep kids out of gangs. For Andrew Vigil, the Toppenish Gang Resistance Intervention Program was not an easy ride. But, it changed his life.

"It's a pretty crazy experience, didn't really think I was going to graduate at first and didn't take anything seriously until I got in the program," said Andrew.

Andrew is one of five who finished from the program so far. He's now getting ready to apply to culinary arts school.

Eric Hinojosa is the gang intervention specialist for the program. He's worked with 23 at-risk kids since he started in March. More than 20 are on the waiting list.

"There's not a better feeling than giving back to my community and that's what makes me keep going every day," said Eric.

Toppenish seems to be making steady progress in its fight against gangs.

KIMA dug up the numbers. For the first six months of each year since 2011, gang-related juvenile arrests have dropped. They were often cases for graffiti and vandalism.

Most of the kids in the program were skipping school, getting in fights and using drugs or alcohol. Eric still works with them over the summer on things like job training and doing community service.

"The feeling to hear a kid tell you thank you and without you I couldn't have made it here is what makes me feel good," said Eric.

"I accomplished something in my life. If I can do this, I can probably do anything," said Andrew.

A now confident Andrew now looks forward to his next challenge.
The contract for the gang intervention specialist expires in September. Yakima County plans to renew it.