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California Non-Profit Empowers Homeless Youth Through The Arts

This article is presented in partnership with CA Lottery.

Not every kid is snug in bed at 2 a.m. on a school night, or wakes up to a warm breakfast, packed backpack and morning kiss. Some are out on the streets, unaccounted and uncared for. Many think this is not an American problem, but it is, even in Los Angeles, one of the wealthiest places on earth.

This never sat right with Jill Gurr, the founder of Create Now, a Los Angeles based non-profit that helps homeless youth.

"I worked in the entertainment industry and traveled all over the world as a script supervisor. I worked on the film 'Menace II Society,' which impacted me greatly." Gurr says. "Around that time, I was involved in a film shoot in East L.A. We were out there on the street at two in the morning and I noticed a small eight-year-old boy hanging out with the film crew, along with his older brother, who was 11. I was shocked to see them on the street. I asked them what they were doing out there and they told me they didn't know where their mother was and that their father couldn't care less where they were. It was an eye-opener for me."

Catapulted into action by that experience, Gurr rolled up her sleeves and got to work, first with incarcerated youth and soon with California's forgotten kids wherever she could find them – homeless shelters, the streets, the prisons and sometimes even in schools.

Create Now Creates Futures

Gurr founded Create Now in 1996 with a $5,000 gift she received from a caring benefactor, Leslie Stevens of the American Film Institute. The process the organization uses is unique and typically culminates in extraordinary results. Kids who may have been lost to the streets go on to college and a future of value, both to themselves and society. One young man, a former gang leader, went so far as to have his neck tattoos removed, eliminating all trace of his past life.

Funded primarily through a Department of Education grant, additional matching grants and private contributions, Create Now's work centers upon five program areas, available as extra-curricular activities in some Los Angeles public schools and in a variety of partner youth agencies such as shelters, group homes and detention centers. The areas of focus are music, writing, visual arts, performing arts and artistic journeys, called Cultural Excursions. The program partners volunteers with children in their own neighborhoods.

The Power of Music and Art Saves Lives

In addition to a variety of outreach programs, Create Now is currently enmeshed in two distinct projects of note. One is an after-school guitar workshop intensive, given to children attending Ramona Elementary School in Hollywood. The other is an empowering mural project for children based in Pacoima.

Create Now brings thousands of children to cultural happenings and events, like free concerts and plays, in order to introduce them to a wide variety of art-infused mediums and to provide them relief from their surroundings.

"To me, obviously the children are our future. I saw the reality of their desperation and heard their heart-breaking stories," says Gurr. "After that, for me there was no going back. I knew that if we as a society didn't collectively do something to improve the situation, we were going to lose a whole generation of kids. Art is a therapeutic tool. By introducing kids to the arts we can save lives."

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at

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