PICO BLVD. — Even a decade later, Trae Smith remembers the seemingly ordinary events: a Los Angeles Clippers game, a barbecue, an athletic competition.
As an elementary and middle school student who spent countless hours in a youth enrichment program, he saw the activities as ways to have fun —but he was learning and maturing, too.
“To this day, I won’t forget it,” said Smith, 20, who is currently taking courses in communications and finance at Santa Monica College. “I still can recall the mentors I had back then, and I talk to them still. Doing that as a kid with your parents at work, when they don’t have enough time, you want someone to talk to. Now, it’s like you see someone in your shoes 10 years ago.”
As the president and founder of Generation of the Future, a local nonprofit group that provides mentoring and activities for underprivileged children, Smith sees flashbacks to his childhood days and his fond memories are the driving force behind this Friday’s event at Virginia Avenue Park in Santa Monica.
Generation of the Future has organized its first-ever January Olympics, which will start at 4 p.m. Jan. 9 and feature sports activities like basketball, football, soccer and ultimate Frisbee along with live DJ music. The group has coordinated referees, jerseys, flags and cones.
The afternoon, which is meant for youngsters in third grade and older, will also include face painting and balloon painting as well as free food, beverages and haircuts by Brotherhood Barbershop.
The events planned by Smith’s organization always aim to have an educational bent, whether they involve fitness, academics or life skills.
“Every student has an opportunity for success, but some don’t have the resources,” Smith said. “Our goal is to mentor them, show them productive ways to do all kinds of activities and get them interacting with people of all different backgrounds.”
Generation of the Future has worked with Boys & Girls Clubs and other youth groups on several events in recent months, including a haunted house, a children’s arts festival in Culver City and a Thanksgiving food drive. Smith and other SMC students also volunteered Dec. 13 at Los Angeles Elementary School, where they engaged children through reading activities.
Melvin Hakimian, 18, who serves at Generation’s outreach coordinator, recalled one particular interaction with a youngster at the recent haunted house that reminded him of his ability to have an impact.
“I talked with one kid whose parents are really wealthy, and they’re always out, so he’s at the Boys & Girls Club, and he said he gets bullied a lot at school,” said Hakimian, a pre-med student at SMC. “Just talking with him for 10 minutes, I got him talking and playing with the other kids. Even the small things, it makes a big difference.”
For the 30-plus local members of Generation, volunteering is an avenue for making connections with other nonprofit groups, meeting peers and bolstering future resumes. But their chief aim —for the January Olympics and beyond —is to make a lasting impact on the children they’re serving.
“When they’re older,” Smith said, “they’re not gonna forget it.”