9/11 and the New American Terror


Remembering the Wounds

This week marks the 16th anniversary of 9/11, a day that changed the American psyche forever. The images of the mangled remains of the Twin Towers are seared into our memories like scars, but what other wounds do we still carry?

We’ve all  been rattled from time to time by thoughts that someone we know can’t be trusted or is out to get us. Most often, we are over-reacting, so we talk ourselves through the process of coming to our senses. But it is extremely jarring when we find our suspicions to be true, with reality even worse than we dared imagine. September 11, 2001 was the day when most Americans first realized the terrifying, disorienting extent of the hatred toward us by many others.

In the days and months that followed the attack, our centuries-old American rallying cry of “United We Stand! emerged with new fervor. We collectively stiffened our backs, stood tall, and determined that terrorists could not break our human spirit, values, or patriotism. Our despair was conquered by our courage.

Today, we seem to have forgotten that the rest of that famous phrase is “Divided We Fall.” Our country has deep chasms down political, racial, and religious lines, with rage and violence as the newly accepted forms of ideological expression. On even the worst days  after 9/11, could any of us envision a country so shattered from the inside? 

Does America Have PTSD?

When I was teaching middle school many years ago, one of my favorite sixth graders witnessed a brutal murder. His parents connected him to a counselor, but the trauma and pain often erupted in  anger displayed at school–hurling himself at other students, toppling desks, storming out of class. This otherwise delightful boy did the best he could to cope with memories of the unthinkable.

Perhaps, like my student, America is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and doesn’t know how to deal with it. We now recognize that the world truly is not safe, and there are people who hate enough to kill. But we can’t process this the way a sixth-grader does, with fists and tantrums. The very freedoms that distinguish our country and protect the right to express differing vantage points must urge us to act with civility, and regard for human life, not with force, assault, and bloodshed.

Remembering 9/11 is painful, and the images and emotions of that day are still haunting sixteen years later. But the new terror we face today is losing the heart and soul of America. Of late, many of our values seem to be under attack, with some already crumbling. We have never been perfect, but even so, democracy, freedom, and personal liberty are worth celebrating and worth fighting for. Differences of opinion–no matter how different–must never blind us to the humanity and value in others, or drive us to violence as we seek to be heard or to make changes in systems.

My student conquered his PTSD, and eventually moved on from the thoughts that tormented and threatened to ruin him. I hope that America will, too. If we don’t, one day all the might be left is a memorial somewhere that reads simply, “Divided We Fall.” I hope that will never happen to our country. Let’s all do our part to change systems of injustice in positive ways, and to teach our children to do so, as well.

Melody headshot high res

Melody Rossi is the Founder and Executive Director of Cloud & Fire, a faith-based nonprofit that empowers disadvantaged youth to thrive.
She invites your comments at melody@clouandfire.org



What is the REAL high school graduation rate in Van Nuys?


Finding accurate numbers for high school graduation and dropout rates is nearly impossible–especially in low-income areas served by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Case in point: Van Nuys High School.

Let’s look at the numbers.

The LAUSD report card for Van Nuys High states that 81% of students graduated within four years (class of 2015-2016). But who is counted as a “student” in that number?

Van Nuys High has three magnet schools on its campus: a Medical Magnet, a Performing Arts Magnet, and a Math/Science Technical Magnet. Magnet schools are themed schools that attract students throughout the district. Applicants must pass an Algebra assessment, which eliminates low-performing students. The magnets attract the best, the brightest, and often, those with parents who are the most informed.  The system leaves out the students who are struggling,  low performing, or whose parents can’t navigate the complicated application process. Many Latino households in Van Nuys are led by adults who never graduated high school, and are unlikely to be understand how to advocate for their children.

LAUSD intentionally averages graduation rates and test scores of “local” students and magnet students in order to arrive at more favorable school report card results. Schools like Van Nuys in high poverty neighborhoods almost always have magnet schools on campus to attract highly proficient students who will balance out the low performing ones. With this in mind, it is interesting that Van Nuys needs three magnet schools on its campus in order to arrive at its 81% graduation rate.

Other school rating systems reveal a different story for Van Nuys. For instance, the Great Schools website shows that the graduation rate for Hispanic students (which comprise 63% of the population) at Van Nuys is only 43%. Test results among Hispanic students show 34% proficiency in Science, 57% in English, and 24% in Math.

LAUSD does not make it a practice to reveal graduation rates and test scores for just its local students who are not enrolled in magnet programs–not at Van Nuys or at any other low-performing school. I understand. The numbers might force them to make an admission of guilt.  While magnet schools were created to bring equity into poor communities and desegregation into affluent, homogeneous ones, my fear is that instead, this practice has only hidden what is really occurring among the district’s most vulnerable students.

Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th Century philosopher  stated, “Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”  I implore LAUSD to face the facts of what is happening at its lowest performing schools, and tell us all the truth.

–Melody Rossi, Founder and Executive Director of Cloud & Fire

Our Mission:  Empowering youth to thrive. 

Cloud & Fire provides an alternative high school completion program for youth ages 16 to 25 who do not feel safe in their schools or who have dropped out of school.


How Do I Know When My Kids Are Ready to Lead?

Youth leader

Ministry leaders must be sure kids are ready to lead before they are placed up front, so they don’t crumble under pressure or lead others astray.  But can we hold on too tightly? As a ministry leader, teacher, and former kid who loved to lead, I think it’s possible for us to wait too long before giving kids a chance to test their wings in ministry roles.

I take my leadership role seriously and feel guilty if I ask others to lift what I think should be my burden. But the truth is, youth leaders are not there to do all the talking or to entertain the youth.  We are there to help foster the gifts of the younger generation, and to get them ready to carry the baton when their time comes.  But putting gifted youth into leadership roles is risky, and we as leaders need to oversee that process with wisdom.

Be a Farmer, Not An Architect 

Kids are born with God-ordained gifts and talents, and gravitate towards what they are best at doing. We nurture their gifts by offering encouragement and safe settings where they can try out what they have learned. It’s like farming.  We have to watch what comes up, and tend the crop. But too often, we instead “design” and “build” people into something of our making, little proteges created in our own image. We usually aren’t even aware of it when we try to create little versions of ourselves instead of helping others blossom in their own gifts.

Customized Training

Though it’s great to procedures for developing leaders, beware of “one-size-fits-all” methods that force everyone into the same growth pattern. Develop natural gifts by putting them to use.  First have students assist you, then give them a little more responsibility. If you can move towards them doing something with you assisting them, you are just a step away from standing back and letting them go it alone. I believe that God’s vision for raising up leaders is for them to learn by doing, not by watching the “pros.”

Know Your Kids

It’s important to know your kids, and to know their spiritual giftedness and the call they feel on their lives.  I like tools like the Cokesbury Youth Spiritual Gifts Test to help get the conversation started because it is free, easy to interpret, and gives the youth a visual picture of the things they are good at and how God might use those gifts.

Kids who are “large and in charge” may need a little bit of sanding around their rough edges, but the effort is well worth it. Loud or unruly youth have immense leadership potential, and with a little guidance (and a lot of patience), they can flourish into some of the best leaders in your group. They have courage enough to speak up, and can usually recover quickly from embarrassing situations. Remember Peter?  Jesus chose him deliberately, so he obviously has empathy for you when  you deal kids who blurt out anything that comes to their mind. Just remember  The Day of Pentecost and take heart!

Be especially mindful of  kids who will do anything and everything for you because they are seeking acceptance or approval from you or others in the group. They can be huge assets to a youth ministry, but can be in danger of burning out if they do too much.

Let Them Soar!

Bottom line:  There is a delicate balance between giving kids too much responsibility and not enough.  But when it comes to Christian leadership, we need people who are ready to step up and let God mold them into His likeness. And Jesus knows how to use imperfect people to get his work done. So give the kids in your emerging leaders a chance to really take charge, and they may surprise you!

Melody Rossi is Executive Director of Cloud & Fire, an outreach to urban youth in Los Angeles. Reach out by email:  Melody@cloudandfire.org

ESL is for Energetic, Shining Learners

ESL Club poses after a potluck with Mr. Larry and Ms. Christina

Our shining stars here at Cloud & Fire are in a lot of ways our ESL (English as a Second Language) students. They come in with various levels of ability in writing and speaking English, yet they take all of the same classes as our other students.



Cloud & Fire volunteer, Mr. Sam, leads a conversational English lesson

On Thursdays during Enrichment hour, one of our many clubs is tailored towards our ESL students. Anywhere from 3-5 of them join staff and volunteer led lessons to help improve their vocabulary and sentence structure skills. They have a lot of fun participating in activities like “Make the Most Words,” “Name Ten,” and “The A-Z Game”. We also buckle down a bit harder and have them do sentence writing drills on the board often asking them to fix each other’s work.


ESL students pose in front of the A-Z list they completed.

The best part about being involved in the ESL Club is seeing the student’s progress. If they are having trouble with a word or phrase one day, when it comes up again a few weeks later, they regularly have got it down. Each student has improved tremendously over the year! Many thanks go to Mr. Larry and Ms. Christina as well who stayed after school a few days every week to help them with their English. There has been a tremendous team effort all school year with fellow students giving tips to their peers all the time, never with judgement, but always encouraging and lifting them up.


Baja Build


Cloud & Fire student, Daniela, shares about her experience on the trip during our morning huddle.

A couple weekends ago, a group of Cloud & Fire students and staff joined Malibu Presbyterian Church for Baja Build, a short-term missions opportunity that allowed its participants to build several homes in Tecate, Mexico. The work began as soon as they arrived, with about forty people working on one building at a time. Each team quickly moved materials, painted walls, and built up each home from scratch. Once the home was finished, there would be a housewarming ceremony where they passed on the key to the homeowners and offered gifts, like clocks and wall mirrors, as well as toys for the kids. The experience made a huge impact on Daniela Guerrero, who frequently visits her family in Mexico, but had never seen these more poverty-stricken parts of the country. She was moved to action by the fact that these communities are so often overlooked.


Steven (left) and Oscar (right) helping install the interior of the house.

For Oscar Amaya, this was his first mission’s trip of any sort, and he loved the experience so much he already wants to return. There was something special about helping those in need in such a tangible way, and especially getting the opportunity to see the families they served face to face. Oscar enjoyed watching how quickly the process went; by the first hour you could see the shape of the house and then the walls were up, then the roof, and by the end of the day they would have a finished product. What impacted Oscar the most was seeing the old homes that his team was replacing, and knowing that these new buildings, though still small, were a major upgrade that would give the families more space to live.


For everyone involved, Baja Build was a really special time of service. Cloud & Fire hopes to offer students even more opportunities like this, where they can step outside their communities (even outside their country!) and get exposed to missions work.

Staff and students pose with one of the families whose house they helped build over the weekend.


Serving Families and Cleaning the Neighborhood for Service Week 2017

For this year’s week of service, Cloud & Fire students decided to partner with a special organization in the San Fernando Valley, as well as invest their own community of Van Nuys. Half of their week was spent at Hope Gardens Family Center, assisting in almost every area of the shelter. Some students served in the preschool offered to mothers with toddlers, some hauled tree branches and pulled weeds in order to clean up the grounds, and some had the chance to help organize the kitchens and its food supply. Back in Van Nuys, students took to the streets to pick up trash and beautify their local neighborhood. Many were shocked at the ridiculous amount of litter they found but felt extremely satisfied after the day’s work. Many students developed a new understanding of the consequences of their littering and other behavior that affects their environment. We hope the service week in general was an eye-opening and thought-provoking time for the students, a week that reminded them of the power they have to better the lives of those around them through service.

Open Positions at Cloud & Fire!

Current VISTAs Courtney (left) and Lindsey (right).

Cloud & Fire is looking for three AmeriCorps VISTA members for the coming 2017-2018 school year. VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a national program in which individuals commit to a year-long term of full-time service at a nonprofit organization. VISTAs are dedicated to building an organization’s capacity to serve the community by creating new systems or improving existing ones. The member receives biweekly stipends and an education award to be used toward paying off student loans or furthering their education. If the education award isn’t desired, the VISTA will receive a cash stipend at the end of their service year. Are you interested in applying or do you know someone who would be? Learn how to apply here.

See what one of our current VISTAs has to say about her time serving at Cloud & Fire:


“I have had many impactful moments during my service from seeing an event that was built from scratch come together as a major success to hearing positive feedback from students and staff impacted by my work.  So far, I’ve helped upgrade several curriculum or general systems that teachers use in their classrooms, so it brings me great joy every time I hear a student or staff exclaim how something they used to find difficult has been simplified with my help. It’s a small thing, but it reminds me of how I have helped so far and motivates me to keep serving.”

– Lindsey, current VISTA member.

Interested in becoming a VISTA? Here’s how to apply: 

  1. Click the links below to review the position that you would like to apply for and submit your application:
    1. Development Project Leader
    2. PSE Transition Leader
  2. Email your resume and a writing sample to: christina@cloudandfire.org

Please submit your resume and writing sample by June 12th