SURREY — In the midst of people flowing into the atrium of the Bell Performing Arts Centre for a forum on youth and gangs stood a soft-spoken South Asian man.
His name is Jessy Sahota and though he didn’t share his story on the stage that night, he’s a shining example of an at-risk kid who turned his life around before becoming entrenched in gang life.
A “gangster wannabe” in his youth, Sahota’s life was veered back on track by Surrey’s Wraparound (Wrap) program. In fact, he was the first student ever accepted into the program back in 2005.
He now works for Wrap – a partnership between the school district, RCMP and the city – helping troubled children just like him not get involved in gangs.
The idea? Attach youth to school, to their community and the home by building positive relationships.
“People I grew up with, some are dead, some have been shot, some are fine like me,” said Sahota. “The person beside my house went on to med school. One who lived two doors down died 18 months ago. Life’s all about the choices you make.”
Sahota was identified as at-risk in the Surrey school district in 2005.
“The (Wrap) manager now, Rob Rai, was a safe school liaison back then, he was my counsellor and liaison,” said Sahota. “He became my friend, my mentor, role model. He helped guide me through my remaining school years and helped me make the right decisions.”
Sahota said though he never actually sold drugs, he was spiralling downward.
“I was carrying a weapon, intimidating, bullying, disrespectful towards staff, fighting, things like that. I was too young to get into the deeper stuff but those type of things evolve into bigger things as you grow older. It can eventually lead to the more serious things like shootings and stabbings,” he said. “We do work with kids who are involved in such things.”
After finishing high school and graduating from SFU last year he was hired at Wrap.
“I came full circle,” he said. “It can be stressful at times because I can’t sit here and say everyone I work with is a success story. Life just doesn’t work like that but when you do see those little changes and the difference you make in their lives, it makes you very happy.”
Programs like Wrap are how to impact future crime rates, he said.
Sahota recalled a quote he once heard that “giving crime prevention money to the police is the equivalent of giving cancer research money to the undertaker” because at that point it’s too late.
“I think police forces around the world have come to the conclusion that crime prevention really starts with grassroots programs like the WRAP program,” said Sahota. “This is where the real preventive work is done whereas police work is kind of reactive in nature.”
There are currently 84 students in Wrap, with 30 on the waitlist. Federal and provincial funding last year allowed the district to halve the waitlist, from about 40 to 20 at that time. Eight to 10 kids are referred to the program every month.
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