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David Garcia, center, 18, was one of the first teens to volunteer to be a mentor. He said he wants to give back to the community. Photo by Promise Yee
David Garcia, center, 18, was one of the first teens to volunteer to be a mentor. He said he wants to give back to the community. Photo by Promise Yee
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STEP UP restarts in Libby Lake neighborhood

OCEANSIDE — The STEP UP student mentoring program is starting up again after a fatal shooting, which killed two teens and injured two other teens, caused the Libby Lake neighborhood to pause. 

David Garcia, 18, was one of the survivors of the May shooting and one of the first teens to volunteer to take part in the tutoring program.

The program trains teens to mentor elementary students. The teens meet once a week with adult mentors and once a week with elementary students at the Boys & Girls Club after school program at Libby Lake Elementary.

Adult mentors motivate teens to lead a successful life with lessons in leadership, time management, goal setting, drug use prevention and gang prevention.

“We’re encouraging them to dream,” Jimmy Figueroa, project coordinator of Project REACH Libby Lake, said. “Sometimes the dream has never been established.”

In turn teens build relationships with younger students through fun activities and one-on-one homework tutoring. During their interaction they infuse character-building lessons.

“The high school students are excited about taking charge of this program,” Figueroa said. “We structure it and they organize it.”

Garcia said growing up in the same neighborhood and having shared experiences makes pairing with younger students a good match.

“We have the same connection of what we’ve been through,” Garcia said. “A lot of my experiences I share with them — parents who are always struggling for money, always problems.”

Garcia said his struggles have helped him appreciate things more.

The May shooting helped him appreciate life more.

Garcia said he was in the park with three friends he has known since fourth grade when the shooters opened fire and killed two of his friends. He said he learned bad things could happen anywhere.

“A lot people were scared to go to the park again,” Garcia said. “They are more aware now that things could happen to anybody. It was really hard.”

The Libby Lake neighborhood has had a series of tragic incidents over the years.

“It’s not the first shooting that has impacted some of them,” Figueroa said.

“It brought up previous hurts. We’re moving forward with it. What motivates me is that they’re volunteering.”

Figueroa said the decision was made to restart the STEP UP Program this September and a dozen high school students volunteered.

“The change needs to start with youth,” Figueroa said.

The STEP UP Program is funded through stretching funds of the umbrella REACH Program.

“We’re lacking in funds, but not lacking in student volunteers and that’s the most important thing,” Figueroa said.

Garcia said he wants to give back to the community and help younger kids learn to make the right decisions.

“I look forward to it, hanging out with kids and being kids ourselves,” Garcia said.

Garcia said his hope for younger students is that they will become motivated to finish school and empowered to pursue a meaningful career.

“I hope they learn something when they grow up and take what we told them and be something, be the next president.”