MARINA SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES Tahitia Crooks (far left) and Keith Harrison (far right) stand with some of the youngsters involved in the department’s Youth Activities League.

The Los Angeles County Sheriffís Department Marina del Rey Stationís Youth Activities League may still be just a ìbaby program,î but station officials say theyíve already seen the youngsters involved turn their lives in a new direction.

Having been in existence for only a year and a half, the youth program offering a variety of educational and recreational activities has expanded to nearly 40 participants from communities in the Marina Sheriffís Station area.

The year-round after-school program allows youths aged eight to 17 to interact with positive role models from the Sheriffís Department who oversee the activities league. The nonprofit program is aimed at helping the youngsters develop leadership skills and build strong character and self esteem.

ìThis is certainly a unique opportunity for the Marina del Rey Station to involve our community youth,î said Capt. Oceal Victory of the Marina Station.

Victory said the station began the program shortly before she became captain and she is pleased with its progress. The league exposes the participants to new experiences and enables them to interact with other youngsters from different backgrounds, the captain noted.

By taking part in the program, youths can begin to develop positive outlooks for the future and gain confidence in resisting negative influences, program representatives say. The league is held from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday during the school year, and noon to 4 p.m. during the summer, at Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey and Frank D. Parent Elementary School in Inglewood.

Several activities are offered through the program, including homework assistance, computer lab, arts and crafts and educational field trips. Youths can also work on their skills in sports such as basketball, softball, tennis and track and field, and with the programís base in the Marina, they can also get out on the water for fishing and boating.

ìThereís a benefit by having the uniqueness of the boating community,î said Victory, referring to the programís location compared to other stations.

Deputy Tahitia Crooks, who oversees the Marinaís program with Deputy Keith Harrison, said the sports offerings are a main reason she was drawn to the program, other than being able to work with kids. But she noted that the deputiesí primary focus is on education, helping the youths improve their academics and ensuring that their homework is completed before other activities begin.

The program leaders work to get the students focused on learning and pursuing a college education, as field trips to college campuses are scheduled for high school students.

ìWe stress the importance of learning and getting them an education,î Crooks said.

Many of those involved in the activities league have seen significant improvements in regards to their academic performance and they have turned their lives around in a number of other ways, Victory and Crooks explained.

ìThe benefits are just innumerable,î Victory said.

The captain referred to one girl who used to get into a lot of trouble at home but she was empowered through the program to make a complete turnaround. The girl has seen her grades ìsoarî at school and she has had a positive influence on her siblings, Victory said.

Crooks pointed out another nine-year-old boy who was struggling academically and had to repeat second grade, but after working with deputies in the activities league, he too, was able to ìdo a complete 180.î The boy boosted his test scores and has placed in the advanced level in math, she said.

ìItís what drives us to reach these kids because we know itís in them,î Crooks said of the studentsí achievements. ìIím proud of the program and Iím proud to be a part of it.î

Crooks and Victory noted that the program is part of the departmentís crime intervention and prevention efforts because it aims to reach out to youngsters who may have behavioral struggles and lack of direction and tries to put them on the right path to the future.

Crooks said the deputies try to help the youths with their various challenges by providing positive feedback, and their interactions throughout the year have built close relationships.

ìItís grown to be like an extended family for us,î she said.

ìYou grow to love your job even more. Itís great to have them look at you in a different light, not just an authority figure.î

Victory said the nonprofit league depends on donations and fundraisers such as the Sheriffís Station Support Unitís Golf Tournament Friday, July 24th. The captain added that the station encourages community youths who are interested in joining the league to contact the Community Relations Office at (310) 410-7600.