Established in 1989 by a group of community members who lived in East Salinas, the Second Chance Youth Program was formed to address the cries for help from youth involved in violence and gang activity. One member of this group, Brian Contreras, understood from personal experience how young people without adequate guidance and in search of identity, security, or community could slip into a culture and lifestyle dominated by gang relationships. Along with community leaders Simon Salinas, Nancy Leon, Jesse Sanchez and Lily Cervantes, Contreras recruited individual gang members to help with the development of Second Chance’s unique services. After traveling across California to look at other youth intervention programs, an outline was developed.
The city of Salinas had a history of gang violence that stemmed from the early days of the prison gang war in the 70′s. After a brief lull in gang activity, the city experienced a dramatic resurgence in violence. In late 1988, a family man was walking home from night school when he was robbed, shot, and left to die. It was later found to be a group of teenagers who committed this crime. The incident brought media attention and alerted the community, including city council members to the needs of youth.
Second Chance began conducting outreach on the streets and providing counseling at client’s homes, parks, and neighborhood centers since office space was non-existent. The organization’s initial funding was received from groups such as Monterey County Building and Construction Trades Council, Salinas League of United Latin American Citizens, and private donors. In January of 1990, the City of Salinas put out a bid to local community based agencies to provide gang prevention/intervention services. As a result of a submitted proposal, Second Chance received a contract for services in the amount of $37,000.00. In May of the same year, Second Chance received its non-profit status as a 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt corporation governed by a Board of Directors representing the cultural and economic diversity of Monterey County and the City of Salinas.