Those of us who lived through the Los Angeles riots will never forget watching our city erupt into flames after the acquittal of the four L.A.P.D. officers who beat Rodney King. Many neighborhoods were burned and looted, but the destruction done by flames of racial hatred was even more devastating than the massive structural damage to more than 1,000 affected buildings. The loss of $1 billion was incidental compared to the horrific eruption of rage and the erosion of trust that occurred in just a few days’ time. We wondered if L.A. could ever return from these catastrophic blows. A residue of suspicion blanketed the city like a heavy, blinding fog.

My commute out of the city that April night was on an eerily deserted freeway, with mine the lone car traveling outward to the Inland Empire. I was deeply relieved to finally arrive safely at home, and take shelter far away from the round-the-clock strife in the heart of the city.  Back in those days, the intersection of Florence and Normandie, where Reginald Denny was dragged from his big rig and nearly beaten to death, or Lakeview Terrace, the site of the Rodney King arrest and beating, were only distant places to me. I couldn’t pinpoint them on a map, and surely could not have anticipated that only one year later, I would become a resident of Los Angeles, and eventually work in an inner city community not much different from the places that were highlighted in the riots.

April 29, 2017 marks twenty-five years since the L.A. riots occurred. Much has happened to rebuild our city, erase scars, and perhaps even pacify the racial tensions of the past. Nevertheless, we would do well to pause and remember, and to ask ourselves what can yet be done to quiet the troubled waters that might still flow underneath the surface of our city. With Black Lives Matter ringing in our ears, surely we cannot lull ourselves into believing that all has been solved with the passage of time.

Although I have been a resident of the San Fernando Valley for twenty-four years now, only recently did I learn that the Rodney King beating took place at the corner of Foothill Blvd. and Osborne Street, near the entrance of the lovely Hansen Dam Recreation Center. This discovery came while simultaneously doing historical research on the Valley and planning a charity run called Race it Forward to take place in Hansen Dam on April 22. The race will raise funds to help troubled youth who have dropped out of school, been in the foster care system, have become teen parents, are homeless, or who deal with substance abuse. The event, which takes place just steps away from where King was beaten, seems a fitting way to commemorate the events of 1992, as it is a way to invest in lives and perhaps prevent similar situations in the future.  

By all accounts, Rodney King led a life that was chaotic and ruinous. While this by no means justified the beating he endured, it does raise the question whether his life—and the history of Los Angeles—might have turned out differently had there been effective interventions in his life. Cloud & Fire, the sponsor of Race it Forward, is a faith-based organization that is dedicated to providing holistic interventions in the troubled young lives of those who are typically at-risk, low-income, minority youth. Investing in the lives of at-risk youth is perhaps the most appropriate way we can remember the events in Los Angeles twenty-five years ago, and ensure that nothing of that magnitude ever takes place here again.


Race it Forward will provide scholarships for youth to go to camp, finish high school, and put their lives back together, regardless of their past. To register or for more information, visit


Return of the Alumni


Mr. Ren reunites with alumni in the student library named after him.

Last month, Cloud & Fire had the honor of hosting several of our alumni for a special huddle talk and lunchtime gathering. Not only did past graduates come visit, but Mr. Ren Floyd also came back to catch up with his old students and fellow staff. It was a fun-filled and nostalgic day as old friends reconnected and new students had the chance to meet alumni. The huddle talk included a message from Mr. Ren as well as some words from three of our past graduates, Luis Matias, Jorge Perez, and Havah Sterns.

Reflecting on her time at Cloud & Fire, Havah shared that “it was the loving and encouraging environment that showed me that everyone can do it, if you just try hard enough and persevere through your own mental negativity… I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. But Cloud & Fire had these great programs, there were health care [professionals] that came…and I like science so I signed up with them, took a health care [class] at Pierce college, and that kind of set me on the path that I’m on now. I want to become a nutritionist in the future, and I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t tried and stepped out of my comfort zone.”

Current students and past staff and alumni catch up over lunch.

Similarly, Luis beamed as he talked about his time here. “Cloud & Fire was actually a really good place to come to when I didn’t graduate from my high school…everyone here are the nicest people out there. Even the people who aren’t teachers, everybody is amazing. I still don’t know what I want to do, even though I did graduate, but the thing is I can actually go to college, I’ve been accepted to some colleges. I’ve just been working, but I want to go to college now, and I think I’m going to go this fall. I thought it was really hard to pass my classes [here], but it really wasn’t, because everybody really helps out. Mr. Carlos would help out, Mr. Ren, Mr. Jackson, every teacher I had.”
Cloud & Fire prides itself in providing more than just a school, but also a family for our youth. This special celebration of our alumni and their accomplishments, as well as their lasting ties to their school, was truly a testament to that.

Family Fun Day at Hansen Dam

IMG_0551eThis April, plan a fun-filled family day at the Hansen Dam Recreation Center in Lakeview Terrace. Begin the day with Cloud & Fire’s Race it Forward, a charity 5K/10K run/walk that the whole family can enjoy together. The race benefits foster and homeless youth, teen parents, and youth in recovery who are returning to school after dropping out. It is a great way to teach children about helping others. Race it Forward begins at 8:30am. Kids 6 and under are free.

After the race, enjoy a picnic in the park, visit the Hansen Dam Aquatic Center (only $1 for kids), or take in the interactive Discovery Cube ($12.95 for kids).  On any given day, Hansen Dam is one of the best family entertainment bargains in the Valley, but Race it Forward is a great way for the entire family to exercise together for a worthy cause. Children as young as seven years old will run to help the Valley’s older youth get back in school.  Strollers are welcome, so children of all ages can take part.

Many San Fernando Valley schools have dropout rates as high as 75%, and Cloud & Fire is committed to helping older youth finish school and enter college or careers. For more information, visit 

Inspired and Informed at the Adelante Mujer Latina Career Conference

IMG_1903Two Saturdays ago, four of our Cloud & Fire ladies attended the 2017 Adelante Mujer Latina Career Conference at CSUN which was put on by the Comisión Femenil of San Fernando Valley. They heard inspiring stories from multiple women who pursued their education and careers despite personal challenges, and attended workshops for careers in education, social work, media and journalism, law enforcement, and more.  Each of them were touched by different elements of the conference, from learning about careers that they had never considered before to identifying with the amazing professionals and their personal experience with education in California.

Janet Rodriguez (pictured far left) enjoyed the education and dentistry workshops. She learned about the higher levels of education, like the California board where they plan the future of schools and educational policy. In the dentistry workshop, they shared about all the offices in the Van Nuys area that actually offer volunteer opportunities to build their experience.

Daniela Guerrero (pictured center) was particularly inspired by the presentation of one of the teachers in the education workshop. Not only was she Latina but she also came from a background where none of her family pursued education, something Daniela strongly identified with. Hearing from Dr. Angeles, who is among the extremely small percentage of Hispanics to earn their phD, motivated Daniela to let go of any fear or doubt she had in her education dreams. She also found the session on grants and scholarship extremely informational, and was inspired by the thought that, even if your gpa is low and you feel like there are no scholarships for you, paying for college is always possible somehow.

Kimberly Ortega (pictured second from the left) also went to the education workshop and was really inspired by the other presenter, who was born in the US, moved to Mexico at four, and returned to the states for high school. Despite the language barrier, she took AP English and pursued a college degree for journalism, a career which eventually led to work in the Department of Education. Her dedication and determination really inspired Kimberly to follow her own dream of becoming a science teacher.

Eileen Rodriguez (pictured second from the right) felt like she really learned a lot. In both her workshops (law enforcement and media and journalism) they focused on the power of networking and that getting into a career often depends on who you know. From this Eileen advised our current students to just go to any and every event around career planning, whether here at Cloud & Fire or elsewhere. Wisely, she added, “being at home, you guys are not going to find anyone who is in their career and wanting to guide you. So just go!”

All our Cloud & Fire ladies enjoyed an informational and inspirational conference; every woman there, whether they were an announcer, leader of a workshop, or keynote speaker, had only positive and empowering words for all the young Latina women. They left refreshed and ready to continue pursuing their education and career goals.


Race it Forward

RiF Header with Website

Looking for a charity 5K or 10K race near Los Angeles?  Cloud & Fire’s Race it Forward will be held in the San Fernando Valley on April 22, 2017 at Hansen Dam Recreation Center to benefit “second-chance education” for at-risk youth. The race will benefit foster and homeless youth, teen parents, and youth in recovery who are now ready to move forward in life. Join us at beautiful Hansen Dam to help young people in our communities thrive. Visit for more information.

Resourcing Students’ Present and Future Experiences

Lindsey Betts, Cloud & Fire AmeriCorps VISTA

My role here at Cloud & Fire has been Education and Postsecondary Education Success VISTA, which means I mostly support the Career and College Pathways coach in enriching our students’ educational experience and providing them with support for their future endeavors. Part of my role has been to build up the academic culture at Cloud & Fire through helping develop new and existing programs and events, like The Watering Hole, our student-run cafe and music night. I also have helped to reinforce a college culture, my recent project being our up and coming College Club, where students have a space to explore post secondary education options as well as become accustomed to the differences of a college classroom.

In my life up until now, I’ve always been very focused on myself and my immediate community, whether that meant focusing on my studies or only serving others when it happened to be my job. I felt it was about time to give back, and not just to the community I grew up in, but those particularly under resourced. Being a VISTA was the perfect opportunity to partner with an organization who not only needed me but also shared my desire to resource students in the San Fernando Valley.

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.

However, it is my own worldview that has been impacted the most. I’ve become more fully aware of the true magnitude of our students’ needs from educators as well as their community, and the disparity between what resources they are given and what they truly need. I’ve also learned that though I’m young, I am more capable of supporting students and families than I thought; any life experience can be used to teach or at least encourage those around you.

Keeping the Mission Thriving

Courtney Caldwell, Cloud & Fire AmeriCorps VISTA

My title at Cloud & Fire is Education and Resource Development VISTA, meaning I wear many hats. One hat is being the lead on our next big fundraising event: Race it Forward, a 5K/10K at Hansen Dam April 22nd to raise awareness and support for our organization. I’m excited about the responsibility of being the point person and coordinating all that goes into this annual event. Another hat that I get to wear is the coordinator of outside volunteers, student volunteers and guest speakers. A third is community outreach and partnership building. One more hat, among others, is creating sustainable materials for recruitment, retention, and resource development. It all culminates to a diverse day to day work life. There’s never a dull moment.

I decided to become a VISTA because God called me to the position and I was intrigued by the service aspect. I love that I get to serve my community while being a part of a huge network all across the nation of others who are doing the same. One of the most impactful moments of my service was working tirelessly on our Holiday Dreams Winter Festival with the core event team. In December, we put in countless hours to make the day go very smoothly with zero framework to start with. The four of us came up with everything including the seven group names, like “Jingle Bells” and “Candy Canes,” each full of students, their kids, and parents who went around to the various stations, like “The North Pole” and “Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen.” We also formulated how to manage and assign roles to our 30 SoCalGas Company volunteers. It was quite the feat. Thankfully, the hard work paid off when all commenced without a hitch.

AmeriCorps VISTA service has taught me invaluable information about what goes on behind the scenes at a non-profit. I’ve had the privilege of participating in all that it takes to make one of these things run day to day. You need certain roles filled including Executive Director, Administration Assistant, Graphic Designer, Communication and Marketing Coordinator, and Social Media Director, by amazing, well qualified, determined individuals. The entire staff team needs to be on the same page with the vision and in providing the overall atmosphere that the Executive Director desires. There is so much more that I could say, but ultimately I’ve learned that nonprofits are no joke and each has an incredible team behind it to keep the mission thriving.