“Could you wrap that in foil to take with me, please? I’m not hungry right now.”
Jenny stood at the food counter of the Collings Teen Center, waiting in line with other students for their free Late Lunch meal. Her engaging smile and confident maturity made Jenny a favorite of the teen center staff. But day after day, she politely asked that her meals be wrapped to go.
In time, Jenny shared that she was actually taking the food to her four siblings. All five children were living with their mother in a motel room on West Capitol Avenue, a nearby corridor long known for its cheap motels, drug trafficking, and prostitution. The family has been forced to move several times, and Jenny is largely responsible for caring for the other children.
Stories like this are played out every day all over West Sacramento as young people are battling for a solid foothold – both in their current circumstances, and in their unfolding futures. Consider some of the dangers that many of West Sacramento’s teenagers face every day:
West Sacramento’s teenage traps
1. Disconnection Nearly 50% of teens who frequent the Collings Teen Center come from single-parent families. One third live with no parents at all, but instead stay with friends, foster families, or extended family.
2. Poverty According to 2011 statistics, over one quarter of West Sacramento children live in poverty. More than 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs; three schools in the area serve more than 90% free or reduced-price lunches.
3. Gangs For decades West Sacramento has been home to the Broderick Boys and the Norteños, two notorious gang organizations on the West Coast, and the city has seen gang culture handed down from generation to generation.
4. Pregnancy Government agencies have identified West Sacramento as a “hot spot” for teenage pregnancies.
5. School dropouts While River City High school has a very low dropout rate, nearly one quarter of students at Yolo High school will drop out before they finish their 12th grade year.
6. Drugs Over half of high school seniors will have tried at least one illicit drug before they graduate, and two thirds of high school seniors have used alcohol in the last month. West Sacramento parents have identified the city’s top community-service needs as drug prevention and gang prevention.
7. Isolation A high percentage of West Sacramento’s population is comprised of recent immigrants from many cultures, including Mexico, Central and South America, Russia, the Ukraine and other Eastern European nations, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Nearly 30 different languages are spoken within the school district.