Pico Youth & Family Center (File photo)

For weeks the youngsters have created beats, composed music and crafted lyrics. They’ve poured their passion into songs about peace, unity and social justice, all the while learning the nuances of audio production.

And now they’re ready for their big day.

The dozens of students who have contributed to the Pico Youth and Family Center’s fifth compilation album will host a release party at 6 p.m. on Aug. 8 at the local nonprofit’s Pico Boulevard facility.

“It’s a great unifier,” the center’s director, Oscar de la Torre, said of the project. “Young people from all walks of life join our music program and learn to work together, to build community, as they express themselves. It’s a major accomplishment.”

The CD release party comes at a critical juncture for the embattled organization, which was recently stripped of city funding amid allegations of financial mismanagement and sloppy bookkeeping.

Santa Monica City Council’s decision not to allocate another $190,000 to the center, which received that amount from the city last year, was a devastating blow to the group’s operating budget, de la Torre said. The director said two full-time staffing positions have been eliminated and added that he’s now the only remaining full-time employee.

Proceeds from admission ($10) and album sales ($15) will go toward sustaining the PYFC beyond the end of the year, according to de la Torre. He hopes Saturday’s event nets $3,000 for the nonprofit, which he said could operate for about six more months without any additional income.

“This is our way to engage young people and help keep the PYFC doors open,” he said. “This whole campaign is to help keep the doors open. It’s a challenge. … We’re hoping that in these six months we’ll get enough revenue to finance the next six months.”

The center, which was established in part to address gang violence in the area, opened the city’s first public recording studio in 2002. Participants have produced about 100 songs on five compilation albums over the years while developing their skills in composition, production and graphic design.

The center’s impact is directly reflected in the 1,000 copies of this year’s album. The music consultant, Julian Ayala, was a former member of the PYFC.

He’s helped youths produce socially conscious songs, including tracks about famous activists like Malcolm X, Rigoberta Menchu and Cesar Chavez.

The album’s content exemplifies the kind of activism that city officials frowned upon as they expressed concerns about the PYFC, which they feel has focused more on advocacy than on providing social services.

Those assertions don’t sit well with de la Torre, who argues that the center keeps young people off the streets and encourages them to be involved citizens.

“People don’t like the idea of the advocacy and the community organizing and the social justice work but the thing is that that work is critical for the way we do the work,” he told the Daily Press earlier this year. “You can’t just deliver services thinking you’re going to address the problem of gang violence. You’ve got to do advocacy. You’ve got to hold systems accountable and that requires people speaking out.”


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