Cathedral City Connects with Gang Kids

by Brian Pickering – 

Imagine a lifestyle in which shoplifting, breaking into homes and vehicles, and selling drugs is considered the norm. This is the picture that constantly confronts Envoy David Manriquez, in charge of the Salvation Army Cathedral City Corps as he works with youth in the community.

Shortly after his arrival to the Army, Manriquez hit the streets and local parks, inviting kids ages 12-18 to The Salvation Army. There, they could be involved in constructive, rather than destructive, activities. With time, plus the addition of Manriquez’ son, Raymond, as youth leader, the group has now grown to 50 young people.

“The greatest satisfaction I receive from working with the youth is seeing their lives change,” he said. “Recently, one of our teenage boys in the program handed me a marijuana joint he had received at school. He said he had planned to smoke it, but decided he wanted more from his life.

“Through God’s love, plus adding discipline and responsibility to their lives, remarkable changes are being seen. The majority of these kids come from dysfunctional families and rough backgrounds.”

Following Bible study recently, Raymond couldn’t find the teens and went to the room where they meet. There, he found them “praying and crying. I just stood there and said, ‘Wow.’ Mind you, these are street kids.”

Raymond, who also holds a full time job outside of the Army while volunteering time with the youth and in the family services department at the corps, believes spending quality time with these young people is half the battle in changing their lifestyle.

“I try to stay in contact with them as much as possible. We eat together, shop together, cry together and laugh together. These kids need to know they are loved by God and others. You may not condone their lifestyle, but spending time with them and showing genuine concern will help bring a change in their lives. They also need to make a commitment to God, however, to complete the change.”

Raymond stated he is excited about two young men, ages 16 and 17, who were both brought to The Salvation Army by other kids in the group through the youth’s neighborhood visitation.

The 17-year-old was “heavy into drugs and gangs,” according to Raymond. A change is taking place in his life. “God is changing his life. You have to realize, though, that gangs don’t let you out easily. He’s slowly breaking out of gangs and cleaning up his life. He now has a conscience that allows him to recognize right from wrong. Today, he hugs me and cries when he’s done something wrong. He’s even given his testimony in church.”

Meanwhile, the 16-year-old, who came from a background where swearing, stealing and hanging out with the rough crowd were an everyday occurrence, recently learned a valuable lesson after stealing an expensive item from a local retail store.

“After I dropped him off at home, I discovered an expensive-looking sweatshirt in the van. I knew he hadn’t bought anything at the store, so I was pretty upset and called him at home. After speaking to my mother and me, he agreed to return to the store with me and take back the sweatshirt. He was nervous because I asked for the manager and had him speak to him personally. The manager was blown away because here was this big chollo boy apologizing for something he did. I was proud of him.”

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