Connect with us

Community News

San Fernando Valley Cultural Center Burglarized, Nonprofit Seeks Community Support



UNITE Cultural Center Los Angeles San Fernando Valley
The UNITE Cultural Center grand opening in August of 2019. Courtesy photo.

The UNITE Cultural Center, which serves youth and families across the San Fernando Valley, was broken into early Wednesday morning.

The cultural center serves as the headquarters of the nonprofit, AWOKE, a youth-led organization that improves access to the arts and athletics, increases civic engagement, and fosters positive youth and community development. 

“We focus on hip-hop culture as a way to engage youth. The center is a cultural hub, a place for the community to come together,” said Pierre Arreola, executive director of AWOKE.

Two men forced entry into the back of the nonprofit’s headquarters, stealing thousands of dollars worth of equipment necessary for their programming. 

Last week, Arreola received a phone call at 5 a.m. from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to inform him of a break-in at the cultural center.

“It was just such a blow to hear about what happened,” he said. “We are all about positivity, if the people that did this needed something, we would have gladly helped out.”

The pair ransacked AWOKE’s Canoga Park location and took off with laptops, audio/visual equipment, cash and merchandise. 

However, Arreola said the physical items can be replaced. One thing that was taken cannot — hard drives containing a decade of archival footage from the youth in the program. 

“That is what hurt the most. Those things, you just can’t replace,” he explained. 

Several members of the nonprofit searched the surrounding area for the lost drives but were never found. 

“Some of our folks needed that footage for college applications,” Arreola said. “I don’t care about the material things, we just want that back.” 

A screenshot of security footage from after the burglary at the cultural center, when one of the suspects returned.

Last week’s break-in marks the second time the center was broken into, with the first just before the COVID-19 lockdown. 

The first burglary was unsuccessful after a construction crew across the street chased off the would-be intruder after hearing the storefront glass shatter. 

“Thankfully, nothing was taken during the first one,” he said. “But glass windows are expensive. It took away money we could have used for the program.”

Arreola said preventing negativity in the community is the whole reason AWOKE was created, adding if a program like this was available for the suspects, the break-ins may have been prevented. 

“We were surrounded by crime and drugs growing up,” he said “The arts were a way for us to not get caught up in all of that.” 

While the formal nonprofit was founded in 2017, the organization’s roots date back 10 years prior to when Arreola was in high school. 

“Coming from Pacoima, some people thought we were the ‘scum of the earth,’” Arreola said. “We wanted to show there is greatness in the San Fernando Valley.”

Along with several friends, he started the GR818ERS, pronounced “great-one-eighters,” to showcase dancers, artists and others in the community. 

GR818ERS hosted breakdancing events in public parks and street corners, but over 10 years, the organization kept growing. 

In August of 2019, the UNITE Cultural Center opened in Canoga Park as a physical space for youth to gather and express themselves through art. 

“These folks sometimes have nowhere else to go,” Arreola said. “We wanted a place for the youth to showcase themselves and their abilities.”

A few months after the center opened, the COVID-19 pandemic reached Los Angeles County prompting a shutdown of their physical location, however, the programming continued. 

AWOKE pivoted to virtual programming, reaching youth at their form of online communication: social media. 

“We used Instagram Live, Facebook, YouTube and other ways to engage youth through the pandemic,” Arreola said. “Now more than ever, folks need an outlet.” 

A UNITE dance class before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nonprofit decided to continue a yearly dance competition, which is their biggest fundraiser of the year, but reformatted the event to conform to COVID-19 guidelines.

Over 300 artists entered the competition, with the final 32 being voted on by the community. 

“It was an overwhelming response,” Arreola said. “We reached people from all over the world, from Latin America, Asia, Europe.”

Now events such as this cannot happen after equipment necessary to run virtual programming was taken in the burglary, according to the executive director. 

“This is a setback for us as we continue to provide crucial services to youth during the pandemic,” Arreola said. 

During a virtual event at the height of the first COVID-19 lockdown, a youth member said, “Dance is the thing that is keeping me sane for real. I lost my grandmother, uncle, and close friend to COVID-19. This event was necessary for me and for street dance culture as a whole.”

AWOKE is asking for the community’s help in finding the perpetrators to recover stolen equipment and irreplaceable archives. 

The nonprofit is also seeking financial support from the community to those able to donate. 

For more information, visit their website or contact via email here or phone at 818-421-7299.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Community News

Man In Bear Suit Walking From L.A. To San Francisco To Raise Money For Nonprofits



Bearsun Santa Clarita Walk LA to SF
Photo Courtesy of @IamBearsun / Instagram

A man in a bear suit passed through the Santa Clarita Valley Tuesday on his 380-mile journey, walking from Los Angeles to San Francisco to raise money for nonprofits. 

Jessy Larios, known as Bearsun, left the Little Tokyo neighborhood of L.A. on April 12 and his documenting the trek on Instagram. 

Some members of the Castaic community took to social media to figure out why a person in a bear suit was walking along The Old Road early Tuesday morning. 

Deputies with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station also encountered the “bear-y unique situation.”

“You may have seen a large teddy bear walking through town, yes a large teddy bear… walking,” said SCV Sheriff’s Station officials. “One of our deputies got the opportunity to meet up with the individual inside the bear and learned he is on a mission to complete a walk from Los Angeles to San Francisco. We wish him the best of luck on his adventure.”

Larios is working to get more sponsors and donations to help fund the Bearsun project, raising money to donate to any selected nonprofit, he said. 

The goal is to complete the cross-state trip on foot in under a week, camping outdoors the entire time. 

“I’ll have a photographer meet me at five pinpoints to take pics, do video documents so we can share as much as the experience with you,” Larios said. 

To track Bearsun’s journey visit the Instagram page here, and to donate visit his website.

Continue Reading

Community News

Second Tiny Home Village For Those Experiencing Homelessness To Open In North Hollywood



Tiny Home Village Homeless Shelter North Hollywood Los Angeles 1
The tiny home village on Chandler Boulevard which opened on Feb. 1. Devon Miller / The Valley Post

The second tiny home village for those experiencing homelessness is set to open in North Hollywood, after the opening of the first in February. 

On April 26, the nonprofit Hope of the Valley is opening a tiny home community near Alexandria Park, consisting of 103 units and 200 beds. 

Ken Craft, CEO of Hope of the Valley, is seeking support ahead of the opening, requesting new bed sheets, towels and other items to furnish the tiny homes. 

“In order to get the site ready, we need 200 sheets, 200 pillows, 200 blankets, 400 storage bins and 200 towels,” Kraft said. “In advance, thank you for being a community member that cares and gives. We cannot do what we do without you.”

Each tiny home is equipped with heating, air conditioning, windows and at least one bed. The village offers another option for families and couples who are typically separated into separate housing areas.

The first tiny home village on Chandler Street, with 40 homes and 75 beds, opened on Feb. 1, with the assistance of L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian. 

“I believe in this model, this will be a viable, sustainable for many people who are coming off the street,” Kraft said in a previous story

The units also allow for privacy, which is important for those who have experienced trauma in their lives, allowing them to feel safe, secure and to start the rebuilding process, he said.

“It creates an alternative,” Kraft said. “This site allows for separation, especially during COVID. It allows for couples and families to be together. For example, a mother with a special needs son is able to still care for them. In a congregate setting, that may not be possible.”

Hope of the Valley, founded in the summer of 2009, operates nine shelters, two access centers and a job center. The nonprofit currently provides 507 beds per night at various shelters throughout the San Fernando Valley housing single adults, families and transitional age youth.  

The number of beds is expected to increase throughout the upcoming year, Kraft said. 

In addition to the tiny home village on Chandler, Hope of the Valley plans on opening five shelters in 2021, in addition to the former Skateland location in Northridge which is expected to be transformed into a 110-bed facility. 

The new shelters are expected to double the number of beds in the San Fernando Valley to about 1,100 beds in one year. 

“Once you come here, you can finally breathe,” he said. “You can think beyond today, and anticipate tomorrow. Coming to a place like this, it’s a new lease on life, it is where hope begins.”

The nonprofit also offers wrap-around services including case management, job placement, housing navigators, substance abuse counseling, mental health services, among others.

In 2020, the homeless population in the San Fernando Valley and across Los Angeles County has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Craft said their shelters have had to reduce their housing capacity to 70% in order to comply with the new health regulations made necessary by the pandemic.

The organization’s manpower has also been affected, as shelters across the county have been forced to suspend their volunteer programs due to the current surge in cases.

Hope of the Valley operates Thrift Stores throughout the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita Valley, Antelope Valley and Simi Valley.

The nonprofit relies heavily on donations and contributions from the community in order to operate. Those looking to donate, visit Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission.

Continue Reading

Community News

‘Go Kings Go, Go Cube Go:’ Santa Clarita Celebrates Opening The Cube Ice Center



The Cube Santa Clarita
Photo Courtesy of the L.A. Kings

Decked out in jerseys, Santa Clarita City Council members and the community celebrated the opening of The Cube Ice and Entertainment Center Monday morning. 

Luc Robitaille, Los Angeles Kings president and hall of fame player, joined Mayor Bill Miranda to recognize the culmination of the grassroots movement in Santa Clarita to save the ice rink. 

“We wouldn’t be here without the passion, the commitment and the grassroots movement of all the people here and more beyond here that said: ‘We can’t let this Ice Station go away,” Miranda explained. 

The mayor added thousands of people contacted the City Council to save the center, which is the second most-used facility in the Santa Clarita Valley, more than the community center, parks or libraries. 

Since taking over the facility, the City has made a number of improvements, including rebranding and improvements to the ice. 

Robitaille presented Miranda with a signed Kings jersey with “Santa Clarita” proudly presented on the back. 

“Thank you so much for saving this building,” Robitaille said. “Everybody that comes in this facility is going to have a great experience.”

The former hall of famer spoke to the young members of the crowd at the ceremony saying “this is for you,” adding some of them might become future professional hockey players or Olympic figure skaters. 

Other members of the Kings organization joined the ceremony virtually via a video on the screen outside the building including play-by-play announcers Alex Faust and Nick Nickson. 

Robitaille joined members of the City Council and City staff for the ceremonial first shot to officially open The Cube.

Once the facility was opened, dozens of young players from across the Santa Clarita Valley enjoyed the ice for the first time in over a year. 

See Related: City Council Approves Agreement With L.A. Kings For Santa Clarita Ice Center

The Valencia Ice Station closed on March 25 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the former operators said. 

In response to the groundswell of community support to “save the rink” the City Council approved the acquisition of the facility in August of 2020.

The council then unanimously voted in February to award a five-year contract to the L.A. Kings, along with American Sports Entertainment Centers (ASEC) which operate 23 sports facilities across the country, according to the City of Santa Clarita.

Larry Bruyere, who managed the former Ice Station, is returning to the facility after working at the former Ice Station and bringing a “hometown feel” to the upgraded complex. 

“There was a lot that needed to be done, but they seem to be tackling everything head-on,”  Bruyere said in a previous story. “I am excited to see the transformation.”

In addition to sports, the facility is also an event and entertainment space as well.

Banquets, mixers, conventions, concerts, charity galas, sporting competitions and more can take place on covered ice, said City officials.

For more information on The Cube Ice and Entertainment Center, visit here

The Cube Santa Clarita Ice Rink
Devon Miller / The Valley Post
Continue Reading

Stay Connected