Why Do We Take Our Students Camping?

Many of our students have never experienced the great outdoors. Some have never before seen a mountain, or felt the cool, clear water of a rushing snow-melt stream. Prior to camping with Cloud and Fire, they have never seen a star-filled sky away from city lights, or been anywhere that was totally quiet. Instead, they are accustomed to hearing gunshots, sirens, and the loud thrumming of police helicopters overhead. On CFM camping trips, they have a chance to see a world that is bigger than the concrete neighborhood where they live, slow down, and hear the still, small voice of God in the gentle breeze. For them, this is a profoundly life-changing event.

Our camping trips are glorious! Each year we invest in one spectacular event that crowns the trip with a most lasting memory. We’ve hiked with students to the head of thundering Nevada Falls in Yosemite, have gone horseback riding in Bryce Canyon, and have braved whitewater rapids on the Arkansas River in Colorado. But most importantly, every camping trip focuses on teaching youth that the very same God who created the mountains, rivers, and oceans, is the One who loves them and wants to know them personally and intimately.

Drum Circle Activity A Big Hit


Being a part of the gang reduction plan for the North Hills area, we rack our brains from time to time to come up with extra-curricular activities that will appeal to our youth. We do this in hopes that students in the area would find Cloud and Fire a positive and influential place to be, and that they would choose to come to our center after school, rather than spending time on the unsafe streets that surround us.

One of the most recent activities that we have implemented has been our drum circle. A volunteer, from Remo Drum Center in North Hollywood, comes each week and facilitates a rhythm drum circle. We play a variety of drums, from bongos, to tubanos, to jimbaes, and more. The students are enjoying this activity very much and beating on a drum is so much fun to them. How could one resist the privilege of creating VERY loud noise? Each student has their own drum that they play, and as the facilitator starts a rhythm, everyone else joins in. The group keeps the rhythm and meanwhile, the facilitator selects a few students to stay on beat, but drum to a slightly different rhythm. The end product is amazing.

Ex. 15:2 The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

YouthBuild Serves Homeless at Union Rescue Mission

YouthBuild Students Serve Homeless at Union Rescue Mission

Cloud and Fire’s YouthBuild students and staff recently volunteered to help feed homeless men, women, and children at the Union Rescue Mission.

Since joining the program, students have been volunteering their time at Hope Gardens, which is owned by the Union Rescue Mission, and have been building classrooms for the formerly homeless women and children who live at Hope Gardens.

Many of the YouthBuild students have had tremendous obstacles in their own lives, and being able to make a difference for others have given them new meaning. Most days, they put their construction abilities to use, but at the Union Rescue Mission, the YouthBuild students help prepare and serve meals. It was an amazing experience!

Here are more pictures of our outing…

YouthBuild Student Prepares FoodYouthBuild Students at Union Rescue Mission

Steven – A YouthBuild Success Story

Steven: A YouthBuild Success

Steven is a bright 18-year-old student who derailed in school when he was 14 years old. He started missing classes, and staying home. His parents seemed unmotivated and unable to get him to school. By the time Steven was 15, he was so far behind academically that he felt there was no way to catch up. That was when he dropped out altogether. He expressed several times to friends that he really wanted to go back to school, but the situation seemed hopeless.

Steven joined the Cloud and Fire YouthBuild in September, 2009, and has become a star student! The smaller, individualized environment encourages him to ask questions. For him, the fact that other students his age were behind in high school was an encouragement, and helped him focus on moving forward. Steven is diligent in his studies, and is one of the first in his class to pass both the English and Math components of the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). He is also part of the Cloud and Fire YouthBuild track team, and as part of that, just ran the Los Angeles Marathon!

Steven has turned a corner academically and personally. He has not only found new inspiration in school, but has gained confidence because of what he has learned on the YouthBuild jobsite. He is utilizing his construction skills to build housing for homeless women and children who reside at Hope Gardens, a long-term facility for homeless women and children. The facility is operated by the Union Rescue Mission, and Steven knows that what he is doing is helping those who have lives far worse than his. He knows that his contribution is an important and life-changing one.

Cloud and Fire is located in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, in a high crime, gang-affected community. The local high school has a 76% dropout rate, and most families have an annual household income of less than $20,000.  In 2009 CFM launched the first San Fernando Valley YouthBuild program.

Develop Trust – Replace Fear

Kids need explanation just like adults do. It doesn’t work in the classroom to make commands and walk around in an authoritarian manner, reprimanding students for every little thing. If you ask them to do something out of the ordinary, and they give you “the look”, or if you make a decision that they feel affects them negatively, they deserve an explanation. They like to know why, as much as any other adult would too if you put them in a similar situation. 9 times out of 10, they will comply immediately if you give them the consideration of taking the time to tell them your thoughts. While most classrooms are based on fear, our tutoring center is based on trust. It is what I do and the integrity of my character that will help the children see that I not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. It is a goal of mine to develop students who are earning better grades in school, but more importantly, I yearn to develop students who are honest and who I can trust. The students are proud of the trust that I give them, and I can only hope that they do not want to lose it. Of course, kids do break trust. But they should be given the opportunity to earn it back. It takes time, and I also make sure on a daily basis that I deserve the trust I ask of them.

In the same way, I LOVE to answer questions that students have. It does not matter if they have asked me before, or if they feel like it is a “stupid question”. I can only hope that the students see that I passionately want to help them understand. I think that can only come from the trust that is built in this center. They have to be able to trust that they can open up to me and ask me things without me putting down their attempts to understand. There are teachers out there who get so frustrated with students for asking something that they have gone over before. We should never become frustrated with a student for not understanding- it only means we, as teachers and mentors are obligated to re-teach until they do. Our positive and patient response to questions helps build the immediate and lasting trust that I spoke of above, which will then surpass any fear.

Photo Album: Spark! Photography Workshop

The Spark! Photography Workshop garnered lots of attention recently.  The Valley Cultural Center’s Photography as Art contest featured over 200 entries in the youth division.  Of the 12 finalists, 7 were CFM students!  Thanks to Mark Baer, our amazing photography instructor.   Here are a few of our student’s photos.  Click on a picture to start the slideshow.


A Flower in Fertile Soil

I fiDandelion-Tutoring-Center-Fall-Festival-2008rst learned about Cloud and Fire when I was part of Bel Air Pres’ The Foundry and a group of us volunteered at Cloud and Fire’s Fall Festival in October 2007. I asked if they needed a clown, and they were very enthusiastic. My alter-ego is Dandelion the Clown, where I entertain kids and make balloon animals. That day was perfectly sunny, and I got to know a lot of the kids who are part of our tutoring center.

A year later, they asked me back again, so Dandelion joyfully agreed. It was another great event, and I knew I enjoyed the ministry, but I didn’t know how God would use me at the time. I was a reality television producer 2 years ago, and I was still searching to see what God’s Will was for my career. I had trouble finding work in the industry for 9 months, and I prayed to God that if this was not the place for me, close the door. And he did. In December 2008, after having been offered a 6-month producing job, I was called the week before Christmas to be told that the production company had gone in a different direction. I had conflicting emotions. This is what I had prayed for – a door to be shut – yet it was also devastating to think of how to go about searching for a new career.


On a camping trip with my husband in June 2009, I said that I would really like to be a Bookkeeper/Office Manager for a non-profit organization. I wanted to help peMelody and Dandelion at<br /> Fall Festival 2008ople, make more of a difference in people’s lives. I had remembered Cloud and Fire and thought about volunteering there. In August 2009, I spotted an ad for Cloud and Fire that wanted a Bookkeeper/ Office Manager. Could this be an answer to my prayers? In a word, yes. I feel like this position was meant for me and I for it. This job, or a vocation really, has been life changing. I love the ability to help others and pray while at work. Who gets to do that? I do! And we have a wonderful supportive staff. I can’t wait to see where Cloud and Fire will go next. So Dandelion pops up now and again, but right now, I am enjoying my life behind the scenes, supporting a ministry that transforms youths’ lives.