“What’s your change, little fella?”
David Hollis leans over the table. There are a dozen people in the room, but his eyes are fixed on one. “I’m not gonna call your name. What’s your change?”
The question is familiar; the voice that responds is not. It’s soft and high pitched. “I want to change. I want to change for my mom.” The voice belongs to an 11-year-old named Savanh. We are withholding his last name.
While he is just a kid, the stuff he is doing was decidedly adult.
“There was a time I was out of work and I noticed there was something wrong with him so I tried to talk to him and I noticed he was high," his mom explains.
We met Savanh at Hollis’ group THUG Life, or True Heroes Under God. Typically, reservations for the group are made by a judge. Kids are sent here as a condition of parole or as an alternative to a prison sentence.
Not the 11-year-old. He is here because his mom wants to stop his behavior before the cops do. While most 5th graders' after-school activities include video games or playing with friends, Savanh’s list is a bit different.
“Drinking, smoking, disrespecting the law.” He tells us. “Stealing bikes, popping houses.” Popping houses means breaking in.
He is the picture of what officials claim is a growing problem in the Valley. More kids are committing serious crimes. Maybe his story is a chance to understand why. For his mother, Savanh is acting out because of a lack of a father at home. The single mom raises three kids.
“I feel like its not having a male role model in his life. Like for him, I feel like it's not having his father in his life,” she says. “In the streets they find men or young teenagers and they feel like it's maybe a father figure to them.”
For the 11-year-old, Hollis’ group offers a way out. A chance to change. A daunting task for a kid not yet a teenager.
“I told her (mother) I want to change," he says. “Is it hard to change?” We ask. “Its not hard,” Savanh responds. “It's just up to you."
Since we first met him one month ago, Savanh has not gotten into trouble at school and has not used drugs or alcohol.
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