We had the good fortune of connecting with Arthur Soriano and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Arthur, how do you think about risk?
Youth Empowerment (YE) has provided reentry services for justice involving youth and adults from the City Heights and Southeast San Diego area since 2015. YE’s inception was to productively support justice involved men and women successfully reenter their communities in a positive, constructive manner utilizing peer-mentoring, job search assistance, and connections to community. Upon release at 36, founder Arthur Soriano found himself below the poverty line, struggling to obtain employment and, more importantly, struggling to reconnect with his community in City Heights. Since that time, Arthur has evolved, and created a powerful link that builds community mentorship, resilience and leadership through Youth Empowerment. Arthur Soriano is a nationally recognized Gang expert and has been well versed in understanding the impacts of prison politics through a lived experience lens. Due to their lived experience, Arthur and the staff of Youth Empowerment understand gang culture and identify with individuals that are reentering the community. YE staff have a deep understanding that this reentry can either have a positive or negative impact resulting in ultimatley uplifting or destroying communities. All it takes is one or two negative individuals, to have a catastrophic irreversible impact on communities. Arthur knows this intimately because at one time he was that negative individual and he was provided support and resources, post incarceration, that guided him to develop community leading to the founding of YE. YE provides services through grant funded programs and boots-on-the-ground community engagement. YE is a grant recipient of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), 2018, through the Children’s Initiative. PSN 2018 has allowed YE to add a parent advocate that provides support and mentoring to the parents of Resilience and Community Mentors using the Parents on a Mission (POM) curriculum, a nationally recognized parent leadership curriculum promoting healthy and nurturing parent-child relationships. The San Diego Central Region Community Mentoring Program (Resilience), funded by the County of San Diego, is focused on youth and young adults referred by the San Diego Department of Probation. The Community Mentors Adult Reentry Program (Community Mentors), funded by a grant from the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), is focused on young adults exiting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) system referred by Probation or through contacts in the communities YE serves. The Resilience and Community Mentors programs offer mentoring to youth and young adults involved in the juvenile justice system and adults involved in the criminal justice system living in the communities of San Diego’s Central Region. While the City of San Diego has experienced drastic reductions in crime and violence, making it the safest city of the 10 largest cities in the nation, the communities that make up City Heights and Southeast San Diego in the city’s Central Region, have lagged behind and maintain the highest concentration of these indicators in the city. City Heights overall poverty rate was 27.6% in 2017 (45% for those who were unemployed), while Southeast San Diego poverty rate was similarly high in 2017 (22.4%) with an unemployment rate of 11% for those 16-years or older.1 City Heights (22.14 property crime rate) and Southeast San Diego (6.24 violent crime rate) both have significantly higher crime rates than San Diego County’s averages (3.8 violent crime; 19.48 property crime rate).2 Both communities have been predominantly known for residents’ difficulty in achieving upward mobility and surpassing low socioeconomic status. The poverty and crime statistics from these two communities highlight the desperate needs of those reentering from confinement, both from the adult and juvenile justice systems. As a Voice of San Diego article suggested: “[City Heights] performs worse than the [San Diego] county average when you look at income, employment, obesity rates, educational outcomes, crime – you name it.”4 The authors note that improvement measures associated with this community falls right in line with national trends, indicating that City Heights has not “rebounded from its [historic] lows.” As for Southeast San Diego, of the county’s 88 known street gangs, it is estimated that 50 call some portion of Southeast San Diego their home turf.5 In City Heights and Southeast San Diego, the significant influence of gang culture adds an element of heightened risk for youth and young adults reentering the community that is not as prevalent elsewhere in the city. In 2019 gang-related crimes in San Diego, including homicides, spiked, emphasizing the difficulties justice involved youth and young adults from these communities must navigate upon returning from confinement.6 The challenge to not recidivate for justice involved youth and young adults from City Heights and Southeast San Diego is great and is difficult to overcome on their own

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Youth Empowerment transforms communities and builds public safety through community mentoring, systems engagement, and advocacy. Our primary activity is mentoring formerly incarcerated and at-risk young people in San Diego, and providing individualized, wraparound services to facilitate re-entry into their communities, reduce recidivism, overcome trauma, and offer viable alternatives to gang affiliation. Youth Empowerment embodies credibility and trust for the young people we serve because our mentors share many of the same lived experiences and truly understand their needs and challenges. We work to reform the criminal justice system and empower young people with the skills, confidence, and support network they need to end cycles of violence and poverty in San Diego. What set us a part is all our staff has been involed in the justice system in one for or another. Volunteered for 4 years before seeing any signs of a contract.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
In the Community we serve. Central Region. That way they can see the needs in underserved communities.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Shout out to the Founders Of Youth Empowerment. Robert Ontiveros, Gabby Soriano, Rudy Arias, Juan Valderrama. and most important Justice- Involved community. Are Amazing Executive Staff COO Niki Martinez and Chief Administrative Officer Rachel Wales and amazing justice-involved staff.

Website: youthempowermentsd.org
Instagram: youth_empowerment
Linkedin: Arthur Soriano
Facebook: @ForYouth Empowerment our page

Image Credits
I have the rights and permission

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.