Keeping Arts Education in LA schools

By Naomi Hernandez

In Shine Global’s film INOCENTE, we meet a 15-year-old girl living homeless and undocumented in San Diego.  She is able to overcome her circumstances and paint vibrant and whimsical paintings in an after-school program called ARTS. She’s lucky a program like it exists for her – but many other children who used to rely on the arts education programs being cut from their schools are now finding they have no where to turn. That’s why Abigail Berman’s organization Adopt the Arts is so important right now.

Abigail Berman, President and Executive Director of Adopt the Arts, just launched her organization this month along with the support of figures such as Matt Soros and Jane Lynch. Adopt the Arts raises money to keep arts education in public schools in Los Angeles and plans to bring artists, celebrities, and notable figures into the schools to host special events.

Berman grew up in Los Angeles and attended school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She lives in Los Angeles today, where her children now attend public school. She became actively involved with arts education when one of her kids first became a student and saw how the LAUSD budget cuts were affecting arts education. Having a vague idea about wanting to do something about it, she turned to movie producer friend Naomi Despres to brainstorm and later to rock musician and neighbor Matt Sorum. Sorum, who was involved in a nonprofit to bring music to under-privileged children, quickly jumped on board and formed with Berman Adopt the Arts.

Adopt the Arts enjoys the support of several notable figures. Actress Jane Lynch, another neighbor of Berman and Sorum, was approached to join and she now serves as a director of the organization. Other directors for the organization include musicians Lanny Gordola and Adrian Young, and the advisory committee for the organization includes such figures as Billy Bob Thornton, John Stamos, and Danny Masterson.

The organization’s fist event, hosted by Jane Lynch, was held this month, and around two hundred people attended, including LAUSD superintendent John Deasy. The event raised $100,000. The performers in the event consistently emphasized the cuts that have been made to arts education programs and stressed the value and importance of supporting these programs.

Berman remarked that the cuts that are being made are “…unacceptable, especially in a city where all of the arts are a major part of the economy.” In Southern California, one out of every eight jobs is in the creative industries, which makes the possibility of the complete elimination of elementary school arts program particularly problematic.

Due to budget cuts, schools are now required to “buy” art classes from the district, which isn’t possible for many schools.

Berman’s organization currently supports seven schools in the LAUSD, with Rosewood Avenue as its pilot school, but she expects that as the organization grows they will move to other cities. Currently, Adopt the Arts is working directly with the principal of the school and the booster club to ensure that the students get exposure to all of the arts’ disciplines. The organization will keep working to ensure that more children have the opportunity to fulfill the potential of their creativity and imagination.

For more information about Adopt the Arts, go to

Soraya Salti teaches entrepreneurship to youth in Middle East and North Africa

Salti INJAZ Al-ArabBy Maegan P. Smith

Soraya Salti, the Executive Director of INJAZ Al-Arab, has just been awarded the seventh annual Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership. (The other winner of the Kravis Prize this year was mothers2mothers, which helps prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS through the education and support of mothers with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa). INJAZ Al-Arab is an organization that utilizes the mentorship of Arab business leaders to inspire a culture of entrepreneurialism and innovation among Arab youth.

Salti became involved with this organization in Jordan in 2001, when the great majority of youth in the Arab world were unable to find employment after graduation. She talks about what a widespread and serious issue this is in the Arab world in an interview with PBS: “[H]ere in Egypt, you find 83 percent of the unemployed are youth. And when I say youth, it’s between the ages of 15 to 29. If you go to Jordan, it’s 30 percent. In Algeria, it’s 40 percent. Even in oil-rich countries like the United Arab Emirates, where you used to have the biggest economic boom, 32 percent of youth are unemployed. Saudi Arabia — you’ve got 35 percent of the youth unemployed.”

Salti recognized this program when she started her work with the organization and began bringing professional leaders and their employees into Jordan’s public schools for an hour each week to share their professional experience with young adults. Through this program, students began to deepen their understanding of the business world and to increase their professional qualifications to operate as independent business owners. Local business leaders began to recognize an increase in talent, skills, and confidence from graduates.

In 2004, Salti expanded the program to a regional level, reaching 300,000 Arab youth. Since its inception, the organization has reached one million Arab youth in 14 different countries, making significant strides in spreading a culture of entrepreneurism, financial literacy and work readiness throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Salti hopes the program will help regional youth become recognized as an engine for growth and prosperity rather than a burden on their economies. The program aims to boost students’ self-confidence by presenting them with experiences and opportunities that inspire and increase their overall sense of awareness. It also seeks to provide a way for young people to make direct connections to business professionals for better chances of success later on.

INJAZ Al-Arab also has semester-long courses that promote financial literacy, work readiness, life skills, social leadership, and business entrepreneurship. They also provide job placement options by exposing them to career options and helping to promote them in the competitive job market. All of this is accomplished while continuing to engage the private sector in a manner that encourages their collaboration and provides a mutual benefit.

The effects of the program were seen at the 2009 Annual Battle for the Best Arab Student Company, where a team of young girls from a rural Omani public high school won both the best Student Company and Student CEO of the Year, becoming an inspiration for Arab women and demonstrating to the region the opportunities missed by having the lowest female labor market participation in the world.

INJAZ Al-Arab has become a “thought leader” in a region where 72% of private sector CEOs now express a desire to improve the quality of education and the ability of students to transition from the classroom to the workplace. INJAZ’s pioneering public-private partnerships have brought over 10,000 corporate volunteers into public school classrooms and encouraged 13 Ministries of Education to seek innovative solutions through partnership to address the skills gap Arab graduates face.

Salti has also been recognized as a 2006 Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year and as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.

For more information about Soraya Salti and INJAZ Al-Arab, visit:

Children participating in rural Indian politics

Pooja Gujjar, deputy sarpanch, bal panchayat, Government Upper Primary Sanskrit School, Chaudhula village, Rajasthan.

Pooja Gujjar, deputy sarpanch, bal panchayat, Government Upper Primary Sanskrit School, Chaudhula village, Rajasthan.

By Naomi S. Hernandez

Pooja Gujjar, an 11 year-old girl from the village of Chaudhula, Viratnagar, Rajastan, in India, holds the position of deputy leader in her school’s Bal Panchayat, which is an initiative across rural India supported by various non-profit organizations that encourages children to form groups that follow a parliamentary system that improve their lives. The Bal Panchayat is modeled after the Gram Panchayat, which is a local governing institution in the villages. The initiative fosters the practice of democracy and encourages the children to draft demands and seek change in their environment and actively engage in the political process. “Before the Bal Panchayat the other students would take their complaints to the headmaster,” Pooja says. “But now they come directly to me.” The Bal Panchayat sits in meetings with the Gram Panchayat in Chaudhula, and the concerns and petitions of the children are taken into consideration.

As a candidate, Pooja had to create a political campaign to get support and identify issues that were important to her. One of her campaign promises was to get more children into schools. She has also taken up the cause of building a kitchen in her school because the conditions under which the school children’s meals were cooked were unsanitary. She, along with the other members of the children’s Panchayat, were able to get the measure passed by the Gam Panchayat and soon their school had a brand-new and safe kitchen. Pooja, within her role as deputy leader, is able to generate real change that affects those in her community and particularly the children of Chaudhula and is an influential member actively participating in the political system.

Read more about Pooja at:

From Homeless to Science Champ to the State of the Union

samantha_garveyFrom Homeless to Science Champ to the State of the Union:
Samantha Garvey Doesn’t let her circumstances stand in the way of her dreams

Not one to let her family’s homelessness keep her form reaching for her dreams, New York teen Samantha Garvey was named as a semifinalist for the National Intel Science Competition.  Samantha was over the moon after learning she has a shot at the science competition’s $100,000 prize.

News of her story spread quickly, as many learned the story of the Brentwood High School senior who had been living with her family at a homeless shelter since January 1.   Samantha told radio station WCBS-AM that being homeless motivated her “to do better.” Adding, “I do well, and I pursue my passion because it’s what I have, and it’s a way out, you know, and it’ll lead to better things.”  Long Island Congressman Steve Israel heard her inspiring story and invited the teen to be his guest at the State of the Union address on January 24th.

Garvey is one of 300 teenagers nationwide named this week as semifinalists in the prestigious Intel science competition. She spent more than two years researching the effects of the Asian short crab on the mussel population in a salt marsh on Long Island, east of New York City.  Once sponsored by Westinghouse, the Society for Science and the Public has been running the science competition since 1942. Over the decades, contest finalists have gone on to some of the greatest achievements in science. Seven have won a Nobel Prize.  The finalists for the competition will be announced later this month, but in the mean time, Samantha, along with her two siblings, parents and pets, will be able to move into their new apartment.

Samantha was evicted along with her family from their home on New Year’s Eve. Her mother, Olga, a nurse’s assistant, was out of work for eight months following a car accident in February, and her father, Leo, could not keep up with the bills alone on his salary as a cab driver.  Leo said that after the eviction he took his family to a hotel for a week because he did not want them spending New Year’s in a homeless shelter. But he finally had to contact Suffolk County Social Services for help last week; they were then placed in a shelter.

Housing prices on Long Island are among the highest in the country, even in Brentwood, which has struggled with gang violence in recent years. A three-bedroom home there recently sold for $291,000, according to Lisa Kennedy, a broker with Eric G. Ramsay Associates. A three-bedroom ranch is renting for $1,800 a month, she said.

The Garveys will pay 30 percent of their monthly income to rent the county-owned property, officials said.

Gregory Blass, the county commissioner of Social Services, said the family was already known to officials because they were staying in a shelter, making them eligible to move into the house. He said the county works to place about 30 to 40 homeless families a month from shelters into apartments or homes. He insisted the Garveys received no preferential treatment because of Samantha’s celebrity.

Before the eviction, the Garveys had rented a home for six or seven years, Leo Garvey said. Before that, the family had also lived in homeless shelters from time to time; Leo Garvey described himself as a recovering alcoholic.

Samantha said that she had worried for several months before the eviction, knowing that her mother was ailing and money was tight.

“I ordered a senior picture and I said, `I don’t know where to send it. I don’t know what’s going to happen. What if we move, what if we get evicted,’ which we did,” she said. “You’re out in limbo. You’re like, `What’s going to happen to my mail, what’s going to happen to my college applications. Where are they all going to go?’ It’s scary.”

The teen says she hopes to pursue a career as a marine biologists after attending Brown or Yale.

Sold into slavery by her family, now hopes to fight human trafficking

Shyima Hall - slaveryBy Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
December 16, 2011

A decade ago, Shyima Hall was smuggled into the United States as a 10-year-old slave, forced to cook and clean inside the home of a wealthy Irvine family and, at night, sleep on a squalid mattress in a windowless garage.

On Thursday, the Egyptian-born 22-year-old stood before a federal judge in Montebello with nearly 900 others and was sworn in as naturalized U.S. citizen. The ceremony capped a hard-scrabble journey that began with Hall’s rescue, wound through the foster care system and ended with her living on her own, working, and with ambitions to become a federal agent.

“I went through something terrible, but right now I’m in a great place,” Hall said after Thursday’s citizenship ceremony at the Quiet Cannon Country Club. “I can’t imagine anything greater than having my own life.”

Hall’s Egyptian parents sold her into slavery when she was 8 for $30 a month, according to authorities. The Cairo couple who bought her moved to Irvine two years later, smuggling Hall into the U.S. where she toiled for them and their five children until she was 13.

Hall said she worked 16 hour days, scrubbing floors, cooking meals and cleaning house, and was rarely allowed outside the spacious home. She was forced to wash her own clothes in a bucket and was forbidden from going to school. She never visited a doctor or dentist and didn’t speak a word of English.

Her captors, Abdel Nasser Eid Youssef Ibrahim and his former wife, Amal Ahmed Ewis-abd Motelib, berated her and occasionally slapped her around, authorities said.

“I didn’t know anything about what America was about. My only hope was to go back home and live a normal life with my family, my brothers and sisters,” she said. “That’s all I wanted.”

read the rest of Shyima’s amazing story at:,0,1583100.story

Homelessness and the Arts – Using Media to Raise Awareness of Youth Homelessness in the UK

Homeless Arts -  Admit I ExistBy Elizabeth Tornheim

Most of Ralph John Perou’s photographs show celebrities living the high life. Bright lights, fancy cars, extravagant dresses. Yet, in his latest project, Perou focuses on homeless youth living in the United Kingdom.

Perou was asked to photograph for the campaign, “Homelessness and the Arts,” a project led by 20-year-old James McNaughton. At age 16, McNaughton found himself living on the streets, and he reflects, “I thought I was going to be homeless for the rest of my life.”[i] He slept in churchyards and tunnels for six months until a police officer offered him help.  The experience inspired McNaughton to lead the “Homelessness and the Arts” project, which is backed by O2’s Think Big youth program.  The campaign seeks to raise awareness about youth homelessness and change the stereotypes associated with homeless people through the campaign’s slogan, “Admit I exist.” The project examines the reasons behind youth homelessness, and the most cost effective ways to support homeless youth.

McNaughton reflects that while he was homeless, he felt that he no longer mattered to the point where he was invisible to society. Ashamedly, I know I can recognize the truth in McNaughton’s words, as I have walked past homeless people without giving them a second glance.  “Homelessness and the Arts” aims to address this stigma associated with homelessness and encourage society to not “succumb to convenient stereotypes, but instead treat young homeless people with respect and dignity.”[ii] Perou, explains how the project has exposed him to the realities of and challenged his perception of homelessness. He says, “I feel embarrassed…in the past, I’ve looked in the opposite direction…”[iii]

Perou spent time with homeless youth in Liverpool and Machester, getting to know them as people, talking about their ambitions, and understanding their struggles. His photographs show meaningful places to the individuals, and are on the “Homeless and Arts” online exhibition. Perou’s work will be displayed alongside photographs taken by homeless youth themselves.

While McNaughton recently launched this project, he plans to eventually establish the campaign as an independent charity.  He plans on using the media to raise awareness and challenge society’s perceptions of homeless youth.  In the future, McNaughton plans to work with other organizations in developing peer education programs within schools and hostels.

McNaughton and Perou’s work ask each of us to stop and think about our perception of homelessness. Ultimately, Perou explains that he hopes that his photographs make people realize “we do have a social responsibility to people who are less well off than ourselves” [iv]

To check out “Homelessness and the Arts” go to  :

To check out Perou’s photographs for the campaign got to: