Carlos Padilla was one of those youths. When he moved to Reseda from over the hill, he barely got by in school. He spent a year in Bridges, bumped up his grades and went onto Canoga Park High School. Now 16, he’s got a job at a movie theater and aspirations to study journalism. “They gave us fun things to do, not just going home to watch the TV,” he said, miming pressing the button on a remote. “I used to get C’s and D’s and hung out with the wrong people. But I made new friends here.” Critics of the program – and the city’s overall gang strategy – have said there’s little accountability for the public funding. Crandall acknowledged the difficulty of quantifying success but said her office had begun tracking graduates and maintaining regular contact to document their progress. Directing youthful aggression into more constructive pastimes comes with a price, said Tremayne Noles, program monitor with the Community Development Department, but one that pays off as they move onto adulthood. “It captures them at a critical time in their youth,” he said. “If you reach a kid at that age, if they’re involved in delinquency or gangs, that’s when you can get to them. They want guidance. They want leadership.” That goes beyond just teaching kids to throw a football or strum a guitar, but giving them a sense of community. Luvicy Frank Noah, whose son joined the program when the two relocated to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina, said the program gave her a sense of family. “When we came here, we were displaced and lost,” she said. “We’ve made this almost like our second home.” As the families, some whose kids had graduated years before, dined on turkey with the staff and volunteers, Eckard took the microphone. She’d been skeptical like the rest, wondered why her school even needed a gang-prevention program. But the kids won her over, she said, and the program thrived. “We did it,” she said, voice wavering with emotion. “We touched so many kids’ lives … and we did it together.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREStriving toward a more perfect me: Doug McIntyre But the community was not always so supportive. “It scared the daylights out of people,” said Ellen Eckard, liaison between the program and the school for the past 10 years. “Parents called the school, wondering, `What the heck is going on?”‘ At first, the program drew six or seven families to nighttime events. Then a dozen, then 20, then 50. At the recent event, several hundred people watched the Bridges Band play old punk music and cheerleaders wave pompoms. Annually, the city spends $9.4 million, centered around 27 middle schools and serving 6,866 students. At Sutter, that translates into 170 kids and their families. Unlike other programs linked to grade-point averages, Bridges engages students at all levels of academic achievement. “Every youth – every person – needs to feel like they matter,” said program coordinator Crystal Crandall. “They have to feel like they’re part of something.” CANOGA PARK – The students sang, cheered, jammed, sank free throws, went on trips, did their homework – and stayed out of trouble. Ten years ago, the city installed the L.A. Bridges gang-prevention program at Sutter Middle School and three other San Fernando Valley sites, aiming to steer youths from delinquency into more wholesome pursuits. Nearly 3,000 kids at Sutter have used it to brush up on their studies, learn to grow up and fill the gap between school’s final bell and their parents’ return from work. Last week, parents, children and graduates packed the school’s cafeteria to celebrate the program’s successes over the past decade.