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:

Please submit your resume and writing sample by June 12th

Crossing the Finish Line

Jason just before he crossed the finish line.

When Jason Valderrama stumbled onto Cloud & Fire, he could never have predicted how much it would change his life. For the first time in a long time, he found people who believed in him. All of Cloud & Fire held him accountable to his goal of completing high school but also encouraged him with grace and love when he felt like giving up and walking away.

On April 22, Jason ran the 10K with many other students and friends of Cloud & Fire at our Race it Forward charity run. He would tell us later that this was his first time doing any sort of major exercise since tearing a ligament in his leg many years ago, an injury that kept him from playing the sports that he loved and keeping up with the other areas of his personal life. In fact, this marked the beginning of a dark time for Jason.

Students gather for a quick pep talk before the race.

After leaving school to focus on issues at home, he watched as the things he had once been passionate about disappeared into a monotonous lifestyle defined by work, home, and socializing. With his arrival at Cloud & Fire YouthBuild and the change it was bringing to his life, Jason considered getting back to his athletics, something that had brought him so much joy in the past. However, his passion was overshadowed by doubt in his leg’s ability to run like before. But when he crossed that 10K finish line, Jason exceeded his own expectations and proved to himself that he was indeed ready to run again. Completing the race was symbolic to him, a picture of the pride and accomplishment he will feel as he crosses the stage as one of our 2017 graduates.

It’s only fitting that our charity run would inspire students like Jason, who has also been transformed by his time at Cloud & Fire in several other areas of his life. In everything we do, our organization cannot help but inspire and motivate students to pursue the change they desire to see in their own lives.

Student Volunteer, Servant Leader


Emerson Martinez sporting our Cloud & Fire t-shirt with this year’s theme: Dream Big Work Hard.

This week was National Volunteer Week, and, as a nonprofit, Cloud & Fire knows the value of those who serve, especially at organizations like our own.  While we recognize and appreciate all the individuals we consider part of our volunteer base, we also want to highlight those within our student body who have stepped up as servant leaders.  One student that always comes to mind whenever teachers or staff are in need of assistance is Emerson Martinez.  Since his arrival last September, Emerson has been extremely involved with student affairs, from being a member of YouthBuild Policy Council to being a supporting member of new groups at Cloud & Fire like the College Prep Club. But more than that, he has stepped up on numerous occasions to help with anything and everything, from manual tasks like setting up and tearing down events to taking younger students under his wing.

Before coming to Cloud & Fire, Emerson never had much volunteer experience. He has always loved to “just be helpful.” He says the difference between being a student volunteer and a member of policy council is the freedom in getting to just focus on the acts of service, as opposed to having some end goal in mind. He particularly enjoyed helping at Race it Forward, Cloud & Fire’s charity run, where he was stationed along the runner’s track to direct racers and pass out water cups. Emerson’s favorite form of volunteering is directly serving other people; his ideal role would be to come back after graduating from Cloud & Fire and be a mentor and tutor to the younger students. Even now, he has taken the opportunity to start connecting with some of the teenage students (twenty-three years old himself) and knows other older students who would be good mentors as well.

Since growing as a student volunteer, Emerson has put more thought into other service opportunities around him. He’s noticed the elderly home up the street from his home, and has wondered about how he could serve there. Once he has more time, he would like to help out with after school programs like LA’s Best, and definitely return to support students at Cloud & Fire.  When it comes to encouraging our current students to get more involved, Emerson says “they need to be motivated by knowing the difference their volunteering can make.” We discussed how it really comes down to a change in mindset; genuine volunteering cannot be done solely for credit or in search of a reward. Emerson’s new understanding of service definitely came only after his time at Cloud & Fire: “I feel like I do make a difference at this school…I do get noticed and when people need help they come to me, and I like that.” Emerson reminds us that students might not realize they are making a difference unless our organization recognizes and encourages them to keep growing, thereby continuing the cycle of their service. Since volunteering is a sacrifice, there will be plenty of barriers for our students, whether that means limited time or family responsibilities. Having time to volunteer is often a luxury, and Emerson understands what a privilege it is to have such time. But Cloud & Fire is extremely grateful that he chooses to spend it here with us.


Worldwide Pay it Forward Day is Friday, April 28, 2017

“Pay it forward” is an expression that means we repay good deeds done to us by passing good deeds on to someone else other than the person who did good to us. The idea has caught on so well that Friday, April 28 is Worldwide Pay it Forward Day.  

One of the highest ways of “paying it forward” comes through charity work, when good deeds are done anonymously or without ever meeting recipients. The nonprofit sector is rooted in our built-in need to “give back” when we have been blessed in some way. Volunteerism, monetary gifts, or actually working for a charity are just a few ways we can participate in what has also become known as “random acts of kindness.”

Runners “pay it forward” by crossing the finish line at our 2015 Race it Forward 5K/10K

On April 22, 2017, Cloud & Fire, a charity devoted to helping Valley at-risk youth, will sponsor Race it Forward, a 5K/10K charity run at the Hansen Dam Recreation Center. The event is a great way to combine fitness with doing good for others, as all proceeds will help foster youth, homeless youth, and teen parents who are in need of finishing high school.  

Cloud & Fire is the premiere high school completion program for Valley out-of-school youth. Because some schools in low-income areas such as areas in North Hills, Van Nuys, and Panorama City have dropout rates as high as 76%, there may be as many as 10,000 youth in the Valley in need of high school completion programs. Unlike packet programs, such as Mission View or Opportunities for Learning, Cloud & Fire provides a full high school curriculum, including electives, leadership training, project-based learning, and college and career readiness. Youth up to age 25 may enroll.

To register for Race it Forward or to learn more about Cloud & Fire, visit  To learn about International Pay it Forward Day, visit