Santa Barbarans got their fill of menudo Sunday at Franklin School on the Eastside during a fundraiser for the Santa Barbara Police Department’s Explorer program.
Nearly a dozen local restaurants at the Fourth Annual Menudo Festival served up the Mexican soup, which traditionally features beef tripe, broth, vegetables and peppers, to raise money for Explorer Post No. 104, where youth ages 14 to 21 are mentored by SBPD officers, receive leadership training and prepare for a career in law enforcement.
The Explorers program is run under the Santa Barbara Police Activities League, which facilitates mentoring relationships between local youth, police and members of the community through a variety of programming.
According to the PAL, more than 85 percent of the youth involved in its activities come from low-income, Hispanic families.
Officer Adrian Gutierrez said there are nearly two dozen young people in his Explorer post each year.
“The program is kind of like a junior cadet type of program,” said Gutierrez, the post’s adviser. “They’re in uniform, they get trained like police officers, they march, a lot of discipline.
“But at the same time, they learn how to do a lot of the police procedures, as well as learn a lot of the law. We pretty much groom them to pursue a career in law enforcement.”
Many members of the post average three or four years in the program, he said, but can stick with it from age 14 all the way to 21.
Gutierrez was the man behind the original festival, which he cooked up as a way to raise money for a program that wasn’t receiving city funding.
Among the music, bounce houses, dining tables and pop-up restaurants were the Explorers themselves, who were helping run the festival.
“As an Explorer, these people end up being your second family,” said Ivan Govea, 20, the post’s captain who has been in the program for five years. “As a leader within the Explorer post, you end up being involved in a lot of the lives of these kids.”
Govea said he has been to two different national Explorer academies, and still keeps in touch with fellow Explorers from across the country.
Explorers learn how to use the police radio, he said, carry handcuffs on monthly patrols with officers, and even learn SWAT tactics.
While many members finish up their tenure with the program by heading off to college or entering the police academy, Govea will be finding out this month when he is to report to San Diego to begin a four-year program with the Marine Corps.
From there, he said he wants to get involved in federal law enforcement agency, likely the Drug Enforcement Administration.
To join, prospective Explorers can begin by picking up an application at the SBPD headquarters at 215 E. Figueroa St.