August 19, 2005

Change Through Music

By Katia Lopez-Hodoyan

Making a difference is the goal, but the road is bumpy. Even so, the show must go on. Literally. Waving flamenco skirts, penetrating voices and the echo of sharp guitar chords is a good way to get started. Creating social consciousness is no easy task, but this innovative attempt to help foster children’s transition into the workforce is admirable.

Zonta, an international non-profit philanthropist organization along with world-renowned flamenco dancers and singers will hold a concert to raise funds for local foster teens. More specifically, the proceeds from the show will help repair a housing facility for youths that have no place to call home. The problem is an old one, yet it is far from being solved.

When a foster care teen turns 18, the federal government relinquishes all it’s monetary responsibility from the recipient, thus, come birthday time, these youths are left to fully care for themselves by finding a job that pays well enough to pay rent, utilities, food and clothing. Since many of them have not yet developed the skills to find a professional full time job, thousands turn to living on the streets, joining gangs or becoming addicts. Furthermore, the emotional and sometimes physical abuse endured by these teens, creates an ambiance of depression, despair and hopelessness. This domino effect is seen often in San Diego County where the cost of living is exuberantly high.

“When I drive to Escondido I see teens living under bridges. Many probably don’t have [immigration] papers, but that’s none of my business” says Juan Celaya, a musician and one of the organizers of the concert: “I’m here to help because that is just plain sad.”

The founders of San Pascual Academy in Escondido took notice of this problem. As a housing development and school center solely for foster teens, the Academy was the first of its kind to open in the United States. Here, foster teens are able to pay a discounted rent while attending courses approved by the local school district. It has a total of 28 homes and it houses 135 youths, but it has the potential for 250. Teens live with a mentor who supervises the youths during their stay. Nonetheless, the housing developments need work. The proceeds from the flamenco concert will do just that. They will make an unlivable place livable.

More than just a refuge from the streets, San Pascual Academy serves as a training ground for teens who want to transition into the workforce. Since its inauguration in October 2001, the center has seen several teens come and go. All somehow touched, changed by the services provided there.

Roughly 550,000 children are currently under the foster care system.

From these, it is estimated that 20,000 teens will be forced to fend for themselves once they turn 18: age at which foster care recipients are discharged from federal support, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“These kids just jump from house to house when they are growing up. They have no stability in their lives,” says Celaya. “And once they are 18 they are supposed to have it all figured out? This money will allow them to become self- sufficient at the center.”

Zonta’s local chapter president, Sandra Burden agrees. As one of 33,000 members worldwide, she and her group have helped a myriad of organizations throughout the years. From cancer research to services for the blind, Burden has directly seen the powerful impact few can have on many.

“This is a win win situation. These teens need help. They want to become functioning adults,” says Burden. “It’s good for supporters as well because they get to help out the community they live in. This is an issue that affects them as well because these teens are part of our society”

For many foster care teens who face economic and emotional challenges, going to college is an unreachable dream. But, those enrolled at San Pascual Academy are required to enroll at a Community College, trade school or four-year university once they complete their high school curriculum. In addition to attending school, the youths must work part time to pay for their discounted rent.

“Repairing the [San Pascual Academy] home is going to take a lot of money,” says Celaya. “But when you compare it to how much housing in San Diego costs, it will be really cheap. It’s a steal.”

So why are these groups so compelled to help out those in need while they live a moderate and comfortable lifestyle? Celaya had a prompt answer: “I grew up in poverty and so did my wife. Now that I’m out of that stage, it’s my turn to help out and give back to the community.’’

The Guitarras de Fuego concert will take place Saturday August 27 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday 28 at 4:00 pm at the Escondido Center for the Arts, located at 340 North Escondido Blvd. Tickets are $45 and can be bought by calling: 1-800- 988-4253 or Ticketmaster. To learn more about Zonta, one can visit Zonta.org.

What: “Guitarras de Fuego”
Flamenco Benefit Concert
When: Saturday August 27 8:00pm and Sunday August 28 at 4:00pm
Who: Ruben Romero, Edgar Cruz, and Jocelyn Celaya.
Where: Escondido Center for the Arts.
340 North Escondido Blvd.
Ticket Sales: 1 (800) 988-4253 or ticketmaster.com
Price: $45

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