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Lords Gym may help fight gangs in Manteca
Youth ministers Darwin Benjamin and Noe Marin talked to Police Chief Dave Bricker about their proposal to bring “The Lord’s Gym” to Manteca to serve troubled area youth similar to one operating now in Stockton. - photo by GLENN KAHL
It was a surprise meeting of the minds over a cup of coffee Saturday morning that could pay future dividends in addressing the gang problem in Manteca.   

Police Chief Dave Bricker met two youth ministers at his monthly public coffee Saturday at Johnny’s Restaurant who told him: “We just want to make a difference – one person at a time.”

Darwin Benjamin representing the recently opened “Lord’s Gym” in Stockton and Noe Marin, assistant pastor of the Christian Worship Center in Manteca said they hope to open a similar facility in Manteca focusing on  turning gang members around through the faith-based sports outreach program.

“We believe the life you live is based on the decisions you make – the principles you live by – and the attitudes you have,” Benjamin said his group stresses to teen gang members.  The Stockton facility opened this month as the 19th location across the United States and into Cambodia, Mexico and Peru.

The Stockton gym – sponsored by the Lakeview Assembly of God Church – opened just this month near Hammer and Tam O’Shanter Drive serving a region that claims to have 90 different gangs.  Assistant Pastor of the Christian Worship Center in Manteca, Noe Marin, hopes his church can help motivate area gang members to turn their lives around with a gym here in the future – possibly partnering with the Boys & Girls Club.

The  director of The Lord’s Gym in Stockton, Joey Steelman, had become a two-time felon by the time he was 18 years old and had been in and out of prison before joining the gym 15 years ago.   Steelman is now the senior pastor of the Lakeview Assembly of God Church overseeing his congregation of 700 members.

Steelman’s life of crime and gangs was left behind after he joined the gym in Sacramento where activities extended beyond pumping iron and he found himself building a new spiritual strength.  Steelman has voiced his passion for changing the lives of gang members in Stockton and now possibly in Manteca as well.

Keeps teens off streets through workouts, activities
The men told the Manteca chief Saturday that the gyms have proven to be a way to keep teens off of the streets through workouts and gaming activities in a positive environment.  Troubled youths are also offered mentoring and other support services that have proven to be effective.

During the chief’s high profile presence at the Yosemite Avenue restaurant, he came across a number of people having breakfast from Tracy, Lathrop and the Bay Area who voiced their appreciation that a police chief would take the time to make himself available to citizens.

Longtime rural Manteca resident George Azevedo related his concern for the continuing burglaries in and around his ranch home.  He told Bricker of being awakened at 3 a.m. recently finding a tow truck back in the almonds in search of a neighbor’s vehicle they said they were attempting to repossess.  He said he warned them of the dangers of sneaking around in the middle of the night in an area where farmers were already sensitized by burglaries.

“I love this – it’s one of the fun things I do,” Bricker said of meeting with the Saturday morning breakfast crowd.  “Everybody is friendly – don’t know that I would be if someone was interrupting my breakfast.”

“Many of them are going from someplace to someplace stopping in Manteca for breakfast,” he quipped.  He added that out of the area travelers bring a lot of money into Manteca when they stop for breakfast on their way to the hills and elsewhere.

Bricker said he witnessed an hour-long waiting line at Denny’s when he held his coffee there last month – being mostly out of the area residents.  He said his questioning at Denny’s changed from, “What neighborhood do you live in?”  to “Which one of your kids played soccer today?”

Many out-of-town diners at Johnny’s
Bill Murphy from Farmington was at Johnny’s Saturday with his two sons, Dervin, 13, and Flynn, 8.  Dervin said nothing much happens in Farmington accept for teenage street racing that is kept under control by the sheriff and the CHP.      

Bricker talked with a group of men from the Bay Area on their way to the 23rd Annual International Sportsmen’s Exposition at Cal Expo in Sacramento who weren’t the least bit upset with his interruption.  In fact they seemed more interested in talking to the chief than in focusing on their breakfasts.

Three retired friends, regulars from Tracy and Manteca wanted to talk about Tracy gangs as compared to those in Manteca with the chief.  They voiced frustration that they feel little is done about curbing the growth of the problem.
Mother and daughter, Hilda and Judith Tallman, chatted with the chief about their neighborhood where they hope to start at Neighborhood Watch that might keep intruders from living in houses under construction.

 The Tallmans have a son and brother who is a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma assigned to special investigations.  They noted they are new to the area and impressed that the chief was in the restaurant to talk to them Saturday.

Mike Loureiro and his daughter Georgiann Rose were just finishing their breakfast when Bricker moved to their table.  Loureiro lives in rural Manteca near Lathrop and Austin roads and complained to the chief about the many burglaries that have been occurring near his home.

Another Mantecan told of his frustrations with auto thefts over the years in the community.  He said when he traveled to Mexico recently he was surprised to see a bicycle left unlocked on a city street.  When he questioned the owner if he wasn’t concerned that someone would steal the bike, he was told “no” because thieves are afraid of being shot.