Posted with permission of the Imperial Valley Press
IMPERIAL — Since his murder in January of 2013, the family of Martin Alberto Garza has found ways not only to remember its fallen son, but more importantly establish community ties in an effort to see that another young life is not cut short by gang violence.
Martin was just 17-years-old when his life was taken, prompting his mother, Yulil Alonso-Garza and other family members to establish the Mothers and Men Against Gangs Coalition.
On Saturday, the coalition hosted its inaugural Anti-Gang Awareness Family Health & Outreach Fair at Imperial Valley College to urge the community to keep the youth involved in sports, music and other positive activities in order to deter them from joining gangs.
The event started with the coalition's annual 5k run, which helps the non-profit organization distribute scholarships to Imperial Valley seniors toward the end of the school year.
"It went very well," Alonso-Garza said of the run. "We had people from Calexico and Blythe. The team from Calexico High School earned a trophy for Top Gang Violence Prevention Team because they had the biggest group."
While both events are in their grass-root stages, Alonso-Garza said she was optimistic about the future of the events as well as their need in their community.
"We're glad to have been able to start something," she said. "We want to keep kids busy and involved to help prevent them from getting involved in gangs."
Present at the event were local public safety agencies such as the Imperial County Gang Intelligence Coalition and Calipatria State Prison.
This was one of the first times the prison had been asked to partner with a community organization and Claudia S. Macias, the prison's community resource manager, was happy to do so.
"We're always willing to do our part in the community," Macias said. "We want to help stop that cycle of violence."
In addition to reaching out to the community the event also served as an opportunity for MAG Coalition to continue its SmashBro Bear drive, which benefits the foster youth of Imperial County.
On Saturday the MAG Coalition members presented Ricardo Martinez, a CASA of Imperial County case supervisor, with 187 toy bears.
"Since MAG (Coalition) came into existence we've been partners," Martinez said. "The bears help the volunteers or juvenile judge break the ice with the children."