Bronx resident provides safety, activities for neighborhood kids amid growing gang violence

THE BRONX — Santiago Mendez often spends his evenings picking up where day camp leaves off — setting up soccer games at his neighborhood park, in the Belmont section of the Bronx.

And with the Madison Boys and Girls club right across the street already closed for the day, Mendez says this kind of summer attraction is a necessary distraction for teenagers tempted by the dangerous allure of street gangs.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for the kids, to be out of the streets, so they can keep playing soccer over here, instead of going out and doing whatever they have to do,” Mendez said.

These games also provide a safe haven for teens like Oswaldo Martinez, who says his mother often worries about him when he’s out playing.

“She be texting me every single hour, telling if I’m ok, and if I’m safe,”  Martinez said.

A mother’s constant worries are a painful reality in this neighborhood park – located just six blocks where at least a dozen alleged Dominican Trinatario gang members brutally stabbed and murdered Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz.

“He was my sweet, my baby - my little boy. I was with him, all my heart. All my love,” Leandra Feliz said.

On this week’s edition of “Talk It Out with Jay Dow,” the 15-year old’s mother, Leandra Feliz, said her life’s work, now lies in keeping alive her late son’s legacy — and urging us all to continue to working to protect children from the dangers of the streets.

“When I saw my son dead in the hospital, I just put everything in god’s hands," Feliz said. "And I believe, and I’m sure, this is God doing justice too for my son."

In the wake of Junior’s death, Governor Andrew Cuomo came to the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club with good news. There will be $18 million investment in funding in youth programs, including a million dollars for the club to offer evening hours.

“Let’s learn from this, and let’s move forward together, and let’s hope that heals the pain,” Governor Cuomo said.

In a neighborhood still healing from Junior’s murder, protecting the children will come  one goal at a time.