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Arts organization serves at-risk youth

Juliana D. Norwood | 10/24/2012, 5 p.m.

Create Now is a nonprofit organization that serves vulnerable youth ages 2 to 25 who have been abused, neglected, abandoned, orphaned, homeless, runaways, teen parents, substance abusers, victims of domestic violence, children of prisoners, gang members or incarcerated.

"The youth we serve come from poverty-stricken families with histories of violence, substance abuse or neglect. These forgotten children are tucked away in group homes, shelters, detention facilities, special centers and schools throughout the Southern California region, under the radar of the general public. We have served more than 28,000 of the neediest youth in the region in 16 years," said founder Jill Gurr.

Create Now has developed an extensive database of more than 1,000 youth facilities throughout Southern California that enable the organization to match volunteers with high-risk or at-risk kids in their own neighborhood, based on the youths' ages, genders, challenges and other preferences. Mentors are trained to help them to customize their curriculum and create appropriate materials for their youth workshops.

"Through our five program areas; music, art, writing, performing arts and cultural excursions, high-risk and at-risk youth learn to express themselves in a positive manner versus the destructive ways that they have in the past. Creative expression has been proven to be very therapeutic, especially for traumatized children. Create Now programs develop youths' talent and abilities. They build teamwork, self-esteem and confidence," said Gurr.

Create Now provides programs and services to youth who are at shelters, group homes, Title 1 and special education schools, detention facilities and other centers for vulnerable kids. Each year, Create Now also brings thousands of these kids to free concerts, plays and other cultural events at premiere venues throughout the region. These field trips not only educate youth while exposing them to new types of music, theater and art, but also bring them relief and joy.

In addition, Create Now arranges general mentoring, like one-on-one "Special Friend" relationships, and teaching life skills to small groups of youth.

"We send out regular notices about jobs, internships, scholarships, free books, computers and other materials to the partners in our extensive network. Create Now is a conduit for individuals and businesses in the community to give back to thousands of the neediest youth in the region," said Gurr.

The newest project that Create Now is working to bring together is Arts xChange, which is a unique program that is bringing together students in Rwanda with students at an alternative continuation school, Youth Build Charter School in Compton, through Internet technology. The organization has developed a special curriculum with the Western Justice Center in Pasadena.

"Sixteen youth from each country are discussing issues of poverty, violence, conflict and acceptance on a private Facebook page. At the same time, we have given them art supplies and video cameras to create drawings, paintings, sculptures and videos," said Gurr.

Create Now is planning to put on two arts exhibitions in Rwanda and L.A. with prizes for all participating youth. To follow this organizations work and to get more information, visit the website at www.createnow.org.