A Snowball's Chance Dreaming Change
by Jessie Moore
"I wish I was a snowball," said 8-year-old Jose dreamily, "so I could go rolling down that hill." He then proceeded to demonstrate just what that would look like, though fortunately on a much smaller hill then the one he had first indicated. While I was smiling on the inside, I was forced to lecture him on the importance of standing up and walking to keep up with the rest of the group. It was his first time ever seeing snow outside of the television screen--in fact it was a first time for most of the kids from Rakestraw Center's after school program.
Rakestraw is located in South Central Los Angeles, perhaps one of the first places people think of when they hear "inner city" or "gang activity." Rakestraw kids, from the time they hit puberty, are familiar with the question "Where are you from?" (i.e., "What is your gang affiliation?") as they are asked to "step up" at the corner down the street. Hearing gunshots in the distance as they are preparing for bed is hardly cause for concern, as it happens almost every night. Schools are so overcrowded that they are forced to use the track system-sometimes going up to track F, which means that there are 6 possible "school years" going on at once. There's no guarantee that all of the kids in one family will go to school at the same time.
Suffice it to say that the children from South Central are faced with many challenges inherent in the community they're growing up in. There is a hardness in these kids that they are forced to develop to survive. In the midst of this, Rakestraw is a safe place for them to come; somewhere they can be off the streets if only for a little while.
I was given the task, through my job with the Urban Foundation, of developing a series of field trips for the after school program at Rakestraw. The goal in developing this was to take kids out of their community, if only for short periods of time, to places they may not have the opportunity to experience otherwise. Our first trip was to the snow, where the kids experienced a snowshoe hike through the Children's Forest just outside of Big Bear. Clothing was donated by Patagonia, food by Vons and Food 4 Less, and transportation by Councilwoman Jan Perry. The look on the kids faces as they learned about the different kinds of trees, the feeding habits of woodpeckers, and the various colors of squirrels made all the effort put into preparing the trip more than worth it. Smiles grew even wider when it was finally playtime and many snowball fights ensued.
A trip soon followed to watch the Los Angeles Galaxy play soccer at the Home Depot Center, and ideally later trips will include excursions to the library and a park outside of the city where the kids can play sports without the concern of losing balls in the street or into the neighbor's yard. The Rakestraw children do not know what Ameri-corp is, or what EUIP stands for, nor are they aware of how much work went into providing these opportunities for them. They do know however, that a change of environment brings a change of ideas, and that a change of ideas can spark dreams-even dreams as lofty as one day becoming a snowball.