Dennis Worden makes no excuses.
Yes, the Los Angeles County deputy sheriff admits, some of the high schoolers he tutors might join a gang or commit a crime in the future.But Worden said he feels that offering options like the Sheriff's High Adventure for At-Risk Kids (SHAARK) program will steer impressionable teenagers in the right direction. Each summer, Worden and fellow volunteer deputies at the Industry station teach free scuba courses to 40 participants.
"Our success is hard to gauge," said Worden, who has been a certified diver for eight years and the SHAARK coordinator for the past four. "Will we see a change in these kids? Not really. Will it cut crime? We don't know. But what we can do is show these kids a great time and show that they can be successful.
"We can show that they can go out and do anything because (scuba) is a major accomplishment."
The 8-year-old program is part of the Industry Sheriff's Youth Athletic League; it is the only law enforcement-sponsored course of its kind in the country.
Residents of the patrol area - from La Puente to Diamond Bar - attend a trio of biweekly classes at the Industry Hills Aquatic Center, where they practice in pools before graduating to 25- to 30-foot dives at Bird Rock and Two Harbors off Santa Catalina Island. Participants must be able to show their swimming ability and receive parental permission before taking part.
"This gives the kids an opportunity for other fields, like oceanography," said Gilda Roman of Hacienda Heights. Her two daughters, Marissa and Danielle, participated in the July class. "It's really a neat experience for them."
Watched over by four certified sheriff divers, the youths make two dives in the Aquatic Center pool, the first to get acclimated to the equipment and the second to the pool's bottom.
"Our hope is for them to overcome any fears they have and to build trust," deputy Rico Rivera said. "This is as close to a police officer many will get. This shows that law enforcement is there to help them and that we're human, too."
SHAARK gets pupils from diverse backgrounds. "It's pretty cool," said Keith Hands, 16, of Diamond Bar. "I never thought about (diving before), but I like it."
Hacienda Heights' Joann Stran said her daughter, Gina, could not have tried scuba diving had it not been for SHAARK. "We could never afford this," Stran said.
The course is taught by Gordon Bouvin, a 25-year veteran dive instructor, member of the sheriff's auxiliary rescue dive team and emergency room technician at Burbank's St. Joseph Hospital.
"I wish we could get 100 kids in this program," Bouvin said. "We've had so many neat results."
Bouvin said it's actually easier to teach these youths to dive than to teach adults. "They don't hold back," he said. "They watch you do it and then they do it. Adults ask, `Why?' "