Baja Build

 

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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.

 

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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.

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

 

Student Volunteer, Servant Leader

 

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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.

PAY IT FORWARD IN THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY

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.”

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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 www.cloudandfire.org.  To learn about International Pay it Forward Day, visit http://payitforwardday.com/

COMMEMORATING THE LOS ANGELES RIOTS AFTER 25 YEARS

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.

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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 http://www.cloudandfire.org/rif

 

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 http://www.cloudandfire.org/rif 

Race it Forward

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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 http://www.cloudandfire.org/rif for more information.

Resourcing Students’ Present and Future Experiences

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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.