In South Los Angeles, the Avalon Carver Community Center unveiled a vibrant mural, which was created by over 20 local youth through a 12-week art therapy program, “Rise to Resilience.” The program is led by the Resilient Agency, a nonprofit that is dedicated to youth development in communities that are impacted by violence.
“Art is the starting point to realize one’s [highest] potential, and being able to express that is what gives it meaning in a way that’s just yours,” Executive Director Michael Guedel said.
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The Resilient Agency currently services areas in South LA and Echo Park, and was initially established in 2018 to provide community-based safety practices, specifically as it relates to gang prevention and alternatives to incarceration. Under a multiple prong approach, the nonprofit now offers case management, identifies and services at-risk and gang-involved youth through workshops throughout the year—including job readiness workshops, drug awareness classes, and financial literacy workshops—and provides personal developmental skills.
Rise to Resilience’s weekly classes covered youth-focused topics such as artistic empowerment, storytelling, and therapeutic art. The Resilient Agency partnered with Avalon Carver Community Center, where youth learned about how to express themselves in positive and creative ways. During the 12 weeks, music, digital media, and photography were also touched on.
“The experience for me in my capacity was impactful, and I can say the same for the youth,” Guedel said. “I know specifically for the youth, it was impactful and meaningful for them, because it was a first-time experience. It was so hands-on, and giving them the creative ability to work together with other classmates, with other peers to develop something, was positive and productive.”
The majority of youth in the Rise to Resilience program were ages 15-20. The five-by-30-foot mural was designed in collaboration with LA muralist Eric Walker, also known as “Cre8.” The mural is aimed at inspiring young individuals in the community to reach their goals and live healthy lives, while promoting unity and solidarity. Under Walker’s guidance, the youth assisted with designing and painting the mural, which captures their strength, personal aspirations, and community visions.
For Guedel, art has always felt meaningful. He explained how as a young person who grew up in a way that is very similar to the participants of the Rise to Resilience program, art and music always brought him perspective, comfort, and relatability. Guedel described how from a young age, art allowed him to create and express his identity.
“Getting a chance to see the youth find that within themselves was more meaningful for me,” Guedel said. “There was one participant, one youth specifically who just loved the program—loved the process and expressed that she was grateful to be a part of a project like that.”
A Child Mind Institute study, funded by Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky initiative, surveyed 4,200 parents of children ages 0 to 24 across the United States last summer, including 437 parents in California. Of the Californian parents, 48% reported their child had experienced increased anxiety during the pandemic, 29% reported their child experienced depression or unusual sadness, and 28% sought professional assistance for their children for trauma-related concerns during the pandemic.
As mental health challenges amongst youth continue to rise across the country, an increasing number of providers highlight how art therapy assists with improvements towards anxiety, depression, PTSD, low self-esteem, substance use disorders, and eating disorders. Art therapy allows for healthy and positive releases of artistic expressions, and an opportunity to express and observe negative thoughts.
“Art allows them to be themselves,” Guedel said. “Especially in communities where we serve and where we come from. We try to break those cultural barriers and stigmas around mental health. Art not only helps break those barriers, but propels an individual to grow.”
Guedel brought up how he is grateful for the program’s sponsors, including Blue Shield, Avalon Carver Community Center, YouthBuild, and Cre8, for being actively involved in bettering themselves and the community. Over the next few months, the Resilient Agency will continue to develop workshops, which may run anywhere from five to 13 weeks, depending on the needs of participants.