I worked in the entertainment industry for 20 years and traveled all over the world, making movies with famous actors and directors. We were shooting a movie in East Los Angeles on a weeknight in the wee hours of the morning, There was an 8-year-old boy and his 11-year-old brother hanging out with the film crew. I asked them where their parents were and how they were going to attend school. The youngest boy told me that he didn’t know where his mother was and his father didn’t give a *%&$.
This experience shocked me and was a wake-up call. I discovered that while Los Angeles is one of the most glamorous and wealthiest cities in the world, we also have the highest poverty rate in the nation. L.A. is the Homeless Capital of the U.S. and there are thousands of children without a place to call home, and without parental support.
I learned that 13,000 runaway and “throwaway” youth from all over the country try to survive on our streets, and thousands of children live with constant fear in domestic violence shelters, family cars and even sleeping in churchyards. Homeless youth experience higher rates of unemployment, lower educational attainment, incarceration, non-marital childbirth and other high-risk behaviors.
I felt compelled to make a difference and to help these kids, especially since I didn’t have any children of my own. Since I have been a writer all my life, I initiated two Screenwriting Workshops for youth incarcerated at detention centers. The results were amazing. Kids who were illiterate learned how to read and write. Others wanted to return to school and attend college. One tough gang leader even had loyalty tattoos removed from his neck and hand. I knew that arts education could help change them.
I founded Create Now in 1996 with the goal of using all the different arts (music, writing, dance, theatre, visual arts and cultural excursions) to engage vulnerable kids. Our goal is to motivate them to stay in school and stay out of trouble. Over the past 16 years, we have reached over 30,000 kids who have been abused, neglected, abandoned, dealing with substance abuse issues, incarceration and other major challenges.
Homelessness is a thread that weaves throughout the tapestry of these forgotten children’s lives, those who have fallen through the cracks of our society. Through the arts, they are able to express themselves in a positive manner that can heal traumatic experiences and build healthy relationships.
For example, we are currently teaching an “Introduction to Art Workshop” at LA Family Housing in North Hollywood, where we encourage the parents to also participate. One mother, who was formerly a drug addict, painted a picture of her 8-year-old daughter that the girl proudly hangs over her bed. The mother said, “Spending my Saturdays in this art class has been most fulfilling for me. The classes also brought my daughter and me together.”
Another popular project is to give the kids a bunch of different sturdy, wooden cigar boxes that they can decorate with paint, beads, ribbons and other supplies for them to create their own “treasure boxes” to store their goodies. Homeless children at Upward Bound House in Santa Monica have been delighted with our Percussion Workshop. Young children living there were also taught how to play “Twinkle Twinkle” on the piano. These artistic expressions help children to build their self-esteem and confidence. Los Angeles generates around one million jobs in the arts, so we are developing a diverse pool of young artists with many stories to share.
Each year, we bring thousands of homeless kids to attend concerts and plays at premiere venues in the region. They are incredibly grateful for these opportunities, not just for the joy and relief they feel, but also knowing that people in the community care about them. Having a mentor is powerful, and homeless children can be transformed when they have someone who meets with them on a regular basis, to give them guidance and support as they navigate their way through life.
We are grateful for any assistance that you can provide to the homeless youth that we serve. Please donate since every penny counts. In-kind donations of arts supplies, musical equipment, books, etc. are always appreciated. Volunteer at a homeless center in whatever way you can. Together we can all make a difference, as we Create Now.
Founder and Executive Director