The 18th Street Arts Center held the third annual Pico Block Party May 19 to promote youth voices by getting them involved in the community. The block party is a community arts festival that featured events for the whole family, with art workshops that kids could participate in, musical performances, artists’ open studios, and food trucks for the hungry attendee.

There were also several musical performances throughout the day that showcased kids’ talents and established an enjoyable atmosphere at the event. One of the first performances was by the SMC Jazz Vocal Ensemble from Santa Monica College’s music department.

One of the organizations participating was the Brighter Future Charity, a non-profit started five years ago that promotes growth in kids with autism along with community understanding. The charity helps kids with autism by letting them sell their hand-made crafts and taking part in community events. The purpose is for them to learn financial skills and give them a chance in life that they might otherwise not get. Brighter Future helps them build social skills, confidence and helps spread awareness within the community about autism.

Ray Tate, 22, was one of the charity’s youth who got to showcase his talents at the event. Tate was there to sell his own hand-made crafts with a toy-theme, mainly key-chains and necklaces. It is free for the kids to sell their crafts, and the festival provides them a way for them to have an income and be a part of the community. “It’s a lot of fun to sell my jewelry here,” Tate said.

The Santa Monica Library was at the Block Party to inform people about all the free events and workshops that are going on in the Santa Monica community. Kids are encouraged to participate in the different programs they offer, such as homework help, reading clubs and other summer activity programs. The library also has a teen advisory council, which promotes leadership and serves as a voice for teens in the community. “It helps youth develop productivity in society,” said Ivy Weston, librarian and teen services supervisor.

Santa Monica local Tracey Roden and her son Cyrus, 5, attended the event for the first time. At the various workshops, Cyrus created things such as a robot LED-card and a balloon animal. Roden enjoys attending street fairs with her family and she wanted to attend when she found out a lot of non-profits were going to be at the event. “I work for a non-profit, and I like to support local non-profits in our neighborhood,” Roden said.

Pico Youth and Family Center, a local non-profit of Santa Monica since 2002, was another organization promoting the young performing artists. The non-profit offers many different free services and programs to kids ages 14-24, such as tutoring services, financial literacy, well-being workshops and community involvement. Interested children and teens can get involved in their music program and record music at their youth center. The organization aims to help kids find jobs, transfer and get out of gangs. The organization partners with the Homeboys and Homegirls club at SMC, and sometimes host the club’s fundraising events in order to support their mission in promoting personal academic growth for previously incarcerated students.

Officials said Pico Youth and Family Center strongly believes in still helping young people over 18 that need assistance. Julian Ayala, music consultant at the organization, believes there should be more programs that can help, since the cut-off age is usually 18 for most services. “You still need help getting your life together. You don’t stop needing help just because you’ve turned 18 and that’s what we’re here for,” Ayala said.

Ayala is passionate about the community and has always loved giving back to the kids as he struggled himself when he was younger. He faced a lot of adversity as a kid and wants to pay it forward.

“Kids can relate to me because they know I went through the same,” Ayala said. “I give advice and tips on how to get through things. I’m more than a music consultant, I’m also like a counselor, therapist and a friend.”

This story was produced as part of a partnership between the Santa Monica Daily Press and the SMC Corsair Student newspaper.

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