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Kids staying out of gangs earn Ford reward

Surrounded by classmates, Gio Mendez fawned over two new Ford patrol cars, blasting the sirens and mimicking officers on the microphone.

The eighth-grader at Santiago Charter Middle School stared into what he hopes will be his future.

"I wish I could drive them right now," he said.

Click here to watch the kids at Ford's design studio.

But a year ago, Mendez, 14, was on the verge of joining gang life. He had no problem ditching class, disrespecting teachers and hanging out with the wrong crowd.

That was before he joined the Orange County Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership, an effort by eight law enforcement agencies to keep kids out of gangs. Now, Mendez is making As and Bs and encourages his peers to respect their teachers.

He was among 100 at-risk elementary and middle school students who visited Ford Motor Company in Irvine Friday morning as a reward for good behavior and staying out of gangs. Ford employees mentored the students from 11 schools for five months, sharing their own stories growing up and teaching them the value of success and hard work.

At the company headquarters, students got a sneak peek into Ford's design center where they shaved clay models and drew new designs on computer tablets. Ford employees unveiled the only models of three concept cars: the sleek, chrome Ford Shelby GR1, the regal Lincoln MKR and the compact Ford START.

Students also met Henry Ford III, great-great grandson of the company's founder, and Mad Mike of MTV's "Pimp My Ride," who shared his own story of taking apart home appliances and hanging out in junkyards when he was young to making a career out of his childhood dreams.

"Learn something, love it, and then do it for the rest of your life," Mike said.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7944 or

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