Living on the edge in L.A.
World Vision youth programs changing lives, communities
Ashley*, 14, has to be out the door by 7:30 a.m. weekdays to make the 45-minute trek to school. Buses traverse the same route, but even a ticket for public transportation is too costly for Ashley's family.
Ashley lives with her mother and 13-year-old brother in government housing, surviving on just $150 per week - the amount Ashley's mom makes caring for a neighbor's child weekdays. This is the only work Ashley's mother, Graciela*, has found since she lost her job two years ago.
The monthly $600 does not even cover housing and utilities - let alone food for her active and growing children. Generous local churches and food banks assist the family, but even then the food sometimes isn't enough for a basic diet. "Today the foods we eat are hotdogs, sandwiches - whatever is the cheapest. We eat a lot of pasta because you can get two packets of pasta for $1," Graciela says as tears slide down her cheeks.
As if the health and economic concerns were not enough, Graciela also worries about her children's safety. "As a mother, I am very, very worried," she says. The family lives in an area rife with gang violence, drugs, and prostitution. Their apartment has been burglarized twice, and two bicycles were among the items taken - bikes the teenagers could have used to get to school more easily.
The day World Vision staff visited Graciela and her family, the tires were slashed on a car parked in front of their apartment complex, a homeless woman was sleeping in the bushes across the street, and six gunshots were fired just after dusk.
Graciela says she's excited World Vision is now working in her community, and especially pleased that World Vision's Youth Empowerment Program for teens is equipping youth to build a better community. Ashley, who participated in the Youth Empowerment Program in 2009, says, "The Youth Empowerment Program has changed the way I think about my community."
Graciela adds, "I think that it (the Youth Empowerment Program) is making things better for the future."
The Youth Empowerment Program provides young people growing up in distressed U.S. communities the tools and experiences that inspire and encourage them to become leaders of change right where they live - and beyond. The MacArthur Park youth have formed the McArthur Park Teen Club, which provides positive activities to other local children and youth.
Ashley says the program has changed her life. "I didn't have hope. I thought that there was nothing to change in this community. Now... I am helping with the kids, I have hope. Maybe one of the little kids we are teaching will be the next president or the next great leader."
*Not her real name