Quick, what is the best way to keep a kid out of trouble?

We apologize for the pop quiz on this Friday morning, but the question is legitimate. How exactly do you keep a young person — especially a boy or girl in their early teens — from choosing a wrong path in life?

There is no easy answer, as any parent of a teen knows. Choosing the “right” path for a young person is about as challenging as finding that second snowflake that is just like the first one you found.

In fact, the task for parents is so daunting, they sometimes don’t even try to guide a youngster. They leave it up to the kid — and that often leads to true disaster.

If you don’t fully buy into our premise, think youth gangs, street crime, petty infractions that, if left untreated, turn into felonies, and too often a capital crime.

Santa Maria has been battling the gang crime issue for years, with mixed success. Most recently, a crackdown on specific gangs has produced stunningly good results.

But law enforcement officials know you can’t rest. The battle against youth crime is a perpetual-motion machine.

Enter the Santa Maria Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety, and its strategic plan for addressing local youth issues. The name of the group is a mouthful, but it’s purpose is pretty straight-forward — identify what’s bugging local young people, and take steps to debug.

The task force has been at work for months, and last month the City Council adopted the group’s strategic plan, which presents a framework for city and community leaders to come together, connect young people in need with important resources, and design programs and projects that will work to improve the quality of life for young people and their families.

That family aspect is vitally important. Without family support, kids tend to drift. If such drifting occurs in the early teen years, the kid too often ends up stranded and outside the law.

What the task force members want is for local folks to step up and volunteer to help in any way possible. The greatest need at the moment is for adults willing to mentor a young person. It requires time, effort and in some cases a great deal of patience.

The task force’s strategy plan has four main elements — prevention, intervention, enforcement, and re-entry after incarceration.

As you can see by the mission statement, this effort targets kids who are already in trouble or on the cusp. If you believe you have the skills to help out in one of the main areas, city officials have a great volunteering opportunity for you.

At the core of the plan is a jobs category, and that’s where the local business community can, and should get involved. Giving a kid a job to do is a great way to keep that kid from resorting to illegal means of putting a few bucks in his or her pocket.

There is an overall objective here, and it’s fairly obvious — working to increase a sense of pride in the community; create informed and involved parents, educators and care providers; reduce violent crime; and reduce recidivism rates. The strategy plan has other objectives, but the group is taking it one step at a time.

Think this could be something for you? Are you up for a real challenge? If you answered yes, you should contact the city’s Recreation and Parks Department at 925-0951, ext. 2269 or 2157.

It will be hard work, we promise. But it will be worth it.