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.


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.

Cloud & Fire Students Volunteer at NTMA Picnic

Last Saturday, a group of Cloud & Fire students volunteered to run the food and activities component of the annual National Tooling and Machining Association’s picnic. Along with the Cloud & Fire staff, students planned activities and even built carnival style games.

Even with all our meetings and planning, there was no way to prepare ourselves for the long (but fun!) day ahead of us. The food prep began right away, with lots of burgers and hot dogs to be grilled and plenty of side dishes to lay out for the picnic guests. At the same time, the team on games began to set up our array of carnival and lawn games, from corn hole to various ring toss games to even our own version of the milk bottle toss. Every student worked extremely hard as they manned their stations and helped others around them when needed. Later in the afternoon, we offered multiple piñatas for all the children and facilitated the NTMA’s main picnic games. These included a water balloon toss (in which one staff was pelted with all the extra balloons), an egg toss (in which we grew more suspicious as more eggs bounced on the ground instead of cracking), and a water-melon eating contest (whose cleanup could have been its own separate game). Needless to say, there was never a quiet moment as every student was hard at work and jumping into wherever they were needed.

Students prepare for a day of serving NTMA picnic participants by setting up their handmade carnival games.

After the games had come to a close, we assisted the lead NTMA team as they ended the day with a sponsored raffle. And following the picnic, our team celebrated a hard day’s work with a meal together, a much appreciated time to simply sit and enjoy each other’s company.

Both students and staff were stretched in many different ways throughout the course of the day. This made the student’s dedication to their work and support of each other that much more impressive.


California YouthBuild Days 2016: A Student’s Perspective

Written by YouthBuild student, Havah Sterns.

During our 2016 YouthBuild trip to Sacramento, I learned various things about leadership and the consciousness shift the Government is having. There were a few amazing seminars I attended, one of which spoke about the fallacy of labels and how this world functions on them. During the class, they had us go around the room looking at certain pictures and we had to write down what we thought about that individual solely based on what they looked like at that very moment, negating who they are. After everyone gave their opinion, the instructor read the labels out loud and then told us what their occupation is and a small description of who they are. After everyone heard the truth, they all felt quite guilty. The seminar was to teach us that labels are not who we are. The truth about who we are lies within our soul. The instructor continued to educate us about the truth of equality and how we are all the same.

Havah Sterns (pictured left) practicing her elevator presentation with YouthBuild alumni at California YouthBuild Days Leadership Development Conference in Sacramento.

The next memorable event I enjoyed was the keynote speaker at the end of the day. He had an amazing slideshow to go along with his empowering story. He spoke about his troubled past and how he rose to victory through the lessons of his journey. One of the slides that caught my attention was a poem from Tupac Shakur titled, “A Rose That Grew From Concrete.” Despite the adversity in life, it is possible to break through into unbelievable beauty and greatness. The second slide that caught my eye was a quote from Albert Einstein saying “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This quote is phenomenally profound. We all have an infinite amount of power, we are all gifted in our own ways, and we all have an inner voice designated to change the world. As leaders, we must empower that voice, we must empower our authenticity and cultivate our true being. We must unite and become the change we wish to see in the world, one step at a time.

During the tour at the Capitol, they introduced a new bill being turned into law that I grew very passionate about. This bill is called SB 1216 and it gives a tax incentive to employers to hire people with a criminal record who are trying to better themselves. Society generally views criminals as a malignant cancer-a continuous poison that will only worsen with no hope of change. The fact that their perception is such that they now view felons as lost individuals as opposed to inherently bad people, gives me hope that this world will heal and continue healing.

Cloud & Fire students on the front steps of the Capitol.

About the Author

Havah Sterns (pictured bottom right)  is a current YouthBuild student and part of the YouthBuild Policy Council (YBPC).

Student Journey: Lesly Figueroa


When I was looking for a new school to earn my high school diploma, I had a friend recommend me to attend Cloud & Fire. I was glad that he did because Cloud & Fire changed my life for the better. I was part of the YouthBuild Policy Council during my time at Cloud & Fire back in 2014. That’s where I really loved the idea of becoming a leader and making a positive change in my community.  I became more active in my school and I eventually also became active in my own local community! Something about helping others and being a positive change made me feel like I was walking the right path. I eventually graduated June 19, 2014! One of the best and most grateful memories I have to this day.


In present time, I have been working alongside a friend of mine and we started a leadership/public speaking club called Toastmaster International in Panorama City. We have so much fun teaching and learning how to become better leaders. We also teach our club members how to improve on speaking in front of crowds and advise them on how they can improve. We really are like a family in this club! I am also a Board Member for the Panorama City Neighborhood Council. We are the voice for our community and take a leadership role to help make our community better. We make sure all the flaws we have are dealt with the right way. We do things from clean-ups to creating public events. I’m really blessed and happy for all the opportunities that I have been given. I thank Cloud & Fire for everything they have taught me. They really helped shape me into the person I am today. I was a shy and reserved person, but now I have become a gleeful and outgoing person! And that wouldn’t have been possible if I never attended Cloud & Fire!

-Lesly Figueroa

Cloud & Fire Graduate (Class of 2014)

Government Education Days (GED) 2015: A Student’s Perspective

Written by YouthBuild student, Angel Telphy.

Cloud & Fire YouthBuild students stand in front of the State Capital in Sacramento.

Finding out about the opportunity to travel to Sacramento was great and I immediately said “yes” in my mind. Once I knew for sure that the trip was in motion, I started talking to a few of the girls about what we all felt it would be like. Though it seemed like forever for the day to come when we’d hop in our Cloud & Fire van and drive to L.A. to get on a bus, the wait was worth it! I felt a little nervous to leave but I got very excited once that morning came.

Being on the road for 6 and a half hours wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. There was television, Wi-Fi, outlets to charge your phones, iPod’s, etc. It was nice! Once we arrived in Sacramento we gathered our bags and waited to settle into our rooms…that wait felt longer than the bus ride.

There was barely enough time to sleep in the great days ahead of us. We got to meet YouthBuild students from all over, A.V. YouthBuild, Compton YouthBuild, Oregon YouthBuild, San Fernando Valley YouthBuild, and YouthBuild Institute…there was plenty more, and I even saw some familiar faces. We had the chance to rotate around because they wanted us to interact with everyone and know that this was our family. There were ice breakers, folders with information inside, and games to play. It was also a chance for anyone who was willing to run for CSTAC, an alumni council. We had dinner (which tasted awesome) then headed to our rooms, had a talk and went to sleep. Everyone had to be up early because they had a lot planned for us. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner served to us. We got colors placed on our name tags and whichever color you had that was the group you had to be with. In our groups we were all sent to different workshops. In one of the workshops we learned about different “-isms,” adult-ism, sex-ism, racism, etc. It was good learning about these things that most of us do every day without realizing it. Later that night we had a celebration for all of us YouthBuilders and played games, had karaoke, and gave prizes to the winners.


Our students met with Assembly Member Adrin Nazarian for an in-depth conversation where they shared personal stories, the importance of Cloud & Fire YouthBuild, leadership, community needs, and advocating for more funding through a specified legislature.

Our last day in Sacramento, we met Adrin Nazarian, an assembly member of the forty-sixth district for Van Nuys, Ca. We got a tour of the “white house” of Sacramento (State Capital). The Governor’s office was there, along with pictures of Arnold S., Jerry Brown, Ronald Reagan, and many more. We learned about how the government was back then, and we saw the safe from 1846, I believe. There were also spit cans by the chairs where they wrote laws and those were used for the men who chew Tobacco. We got to hold imitations of the silver coins that were $20.00 back then which was a lot in those days.

Everyone from my YouthBuild took pictures, played card games, and talked about how this experience would change our lives and not to mention give us more knowledge. One thing I loved about this trip was a saying they had us do: “YOUTHBUILD YOUTHBUILD HOW YA’LL FEELIN’?”  And we’d say “IGHT IGHT!” I’ll keep that locked in my head for life! After visiting the State Capital we said our goodbyes. Overall I am glad I didn’t back down and got to live this chapter in my life. I would do it all over again if we had the chance tomorrow!


About the Author

Angel Telphy is a current YouthBuild student and part of the YouthBuild Policy Council (YBPC).