January 13, 2014 6:44 pm
Updated: January 13, 2014 8:28 pm

Successful program keeps high-risk youths out of gangs

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CALGARY- He’s a young man who was headed straight for gang life, but a unique program has kept him out of jail—and turned him into a dedicated student and athlete.

Phil Watt didn’t start off on the right track.

“I remember taking my first lollipop from the store when I was not even in school,” the 17-year-old remembers. “If you told me not to do something, I wanted to do it that much more.”

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His father was involved with drugs and had gang affiliations in Calgary—meaning his mother was left to raise him on her own. Watt started sneaking out and failing school.

“Every day I got a call, they had me on speed dial,” his mother Kristen Luu says. “Stealing people’s lunches, getting in fights with kids…ground him didn’t work, taking away privileges didn’t work, he would just defy me.”

At age 12, Watt was caught shoplifting at Chinook Centre, and police concluded he was a high risk to become a gang member. But instead of sending him through the court system, they paired him up with the Calgary Police Youth at Risk Development Program (YARD).

Cst. Al Devolin spent time with Watt, got him and his mother into counselling and set him up with a tutor. Not only did Watt’s grades shoot way up, but he’s become an accomplished track-and-field athlete. He also has a new outlook.

“I was so blinded by ‘I am the ruler, the world revolves around me.’ I look back and go wow, I was egotistic.”

Devolin says that early intervention is important.

“The earlier you get to the young guy in the family, the easier it is to turn things around,” he explains. “This is the gold standard. This is what we would like for all of our families and kids to achieve. That’s the hope.”

Watt says all that he has achieved so far is just the beginning.

“I know exactly where I should be and where I could go. I would rather be on the side where people respect me.”

Click here to find out more about the YARD program.

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