Mar 12, 2020

You Gotta Have Heart

Childhood by Janna Rae Nieto, from Dream Catchers
Childhood by Janna Rae Nieto, from Dream Catchers

Each year POPS the Club students and alumni create poetry, stories, essays, painting, photographs and mixed media artwork in their clubs--inspired by our volunteers, our guest speakers, and by their fellow students' work published in our six collections published since our founding.

This year's collection is special for it will be published by Out of the Woods Press. The collection is special in other ways too as it features work by members from 14 schools in four states. As we received submissions, we were astonished--we always are--by the power and wisdom in the work. 

One special submission this year came from a member of the very first POPS club launched on February 13, 2013. For seven years this young man has continued to be part of the ever-growing POPS family, and this year he visited the Venice club to celebrate POPS' birthday with the club members at Venice. When he arrived he said, "I'd like to share my newest poem with you, for Valentine's Day..."

We want to share John Bembry's poem with you, a taste of what's to come in the new anthology, Dream Catchers, to be released in October.

I'm Looking for a New Heart

Mine is damaged beyond repair/It works sometimes or never,

Or when it wants to

It doesn't do well with anger./It will erupt like a volcano burning friendships or itself.

It doesn't show too many emotions./It feels cold in my chest and it tends to make me numb. 

It seems to react to pain more than anything./Having a fun memory can trigger the pain it once felt.

It enjoys darkness and solitude.

I've put a lot of work into it./It was almost completely broken.

Not sure if this is how a heart should feel.

If anyone has a heart and doesn't mind lending it, that would be great./I can't physically take it, of course,

But maybe it can mend mine into what it should be.

It takes so much will power and focus on the future to not let it affect me mentally. 

At least I know my mind is strong.

As for my heart, it's going to take a lifetime of treatment to return it to normal.

If it ever has been.

I just hope to feel true happiness one day.

       Like John's poem, the work our students' produce reflects the power of the bonds they've created, the trust and inspiration created in the clubs. 

[All students and grads] participating in this report and in our publications have provided written permission, either themselves for those over 18 or from their parent or guardian for those under 18, for POPS to use their full names. 

The Days Unravelling by Nicole Bezerra, POPS grad
The Days Unravelling by Nicole Bezerra, POPS grad
Mixed Emotions by Morgan Hamilton, Dream Catchers
Mixed Emotions by Morgan Hamilton, Dream Catchers
Open Heart, Anonymous POPS student, Dream Catchers
Open Heart, Anonymous POPS student, Dream Catchers
In the Beginning, Ellie Perez Sanchez
In the Beginning, Ellie Perez Sanchez
John Bembry, Poet and longtime POPS member
John Bembry, Poet and longtime POPS member

Links:

Dec 9, 2019

You are part of our Village!

Valeria performs at POPS Book Launch 2019
Valeria performs at POPS Book Launch 2019

Valeria is one of more than 1,000 teens across the U.S. who are treasured student members and graduates of POPS the Club.

Back in 2015, Valeria’s fears surrounding her family’s struggles with immigration drew her to visit a POPS club for the first time. In that nurturing space, she experienced transformation. 

Before joining POPS, Valeria hid her fears and anxieties from teachers, counselors, peers, even her closest friends. POPS helped her understand she was not alone and empowered her to open up. In doing so, she discovered that her personal story is her strength!

It is estimated that more than 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some time in their life. And these kids face unique difficulties. In addition to the trauma of separation, behavioral consequences can be severe. 

Children impacted by incarceration and detention are disproportionately more likely to have higher dropout rates, higher incidences of depression, ill-health, and anxiety. Parental incarceration disproportionately affects people of color and low-income populations, and a system of laws and regulations enacted to profit off the families of the incarcerated imposes still more burdens.

And yet these children have remained nearly invisible.

POPS the Club was founded to change all that, to provide support, hope and dignity for this too-often ignored population, and to amplify their voices.

After graduating from high school, Valeria stayed connected to POPS, and this year we were able to hire her to be our Volunteer Coordinator, even as she continues her college studies and holds down a second job.

One day at that second job, a customer offered Valeria a tip. She asked if instead he would consider a donation to POPS, the organization that had so critically impacted her life.

After he read about POPS’ mission, the gentleman made an extraordinarily generous donation.

It was second nature for Valeria to share the story of POPS the Club because she knows that those who have participated in POPS have experienced:

·     a reduction in depression and anxiety

·     an increased desire to graduate high school and go on to college

·    a decision to leave behind gang associations

·     trading violence for artistic expression

·     an overall optimism about life that they did not have before

Each week POPS receives calls from schools, teachers, principals and community leaders wishing to bring POPS to their schools. We're ready to launch at new sites in 2020, but we need your support as we seek to raise $50,000 to support our expansion. 

You are part of our village, and your support means so much, so we hope you'll consider a donation this holiday season! 

With deep appreciation,
Amy Friedman,
Executive Director

P.S. Your gift makes it possible for a POPS provide each club with a nutritious lunch, a trained leadership team, our self-empowerment, self-expression and community engagement curriculum, publishing opportunities, and the kinds of other support members need to grow, heal and thrive. 

John performs at the 2019 Book Launch
John performs at the 2019 Book Launch
POPS is Family!
POPS is Family!
Katherine & Karen, POPS Grads and Ambassadors
Katherine & Karen, POPS Grads and Ambassadors
Necey and Jennifer
Necey and Jennifer
Mikey performs at We Got Game Book launch
Mikey performs at We Got Game Book launch
Sep 19, 2019

The Student Becomes the Teacher

Karen Arellano, POPS Communications Intern
Karen Arellano, POPS Communications Intern
In late spring, I reached out to on of our POPS the Club graduates and asked if she would be interested in speaking to middle school students with incarcerated family members about her experience with POPS. "I'll write up something," Leslie said, "you'll tell me if it's something that would be meaningful for the kids."

When I read what she wrote, I knew not only would the kids appreciate her words, but I also knew how meaningful her words are for everyone who supports POPS. This is an excerpt of what she wrote:

"I joined POPS when I was a senior in high school and I’m going to be honest, I started going because of the food. Who wouldn’t want to have a good lunch rather than the lunch in the cafeteria, right? So I gotta say I tend to be a quiet person. I don’t speak much until I have gained full confidence in the people surrounding me. This time I made an exception to come and speak because I was once a student at Mark Twain Middle School, and while I was, I was going through so much, and there was no way of talking out what I felt. I was going through depression. I was diagnosed with Lupus, and I was home-schooled throughout 8th grade. I lost my memory. I don’t remember culminating. I only have a picture but a picture doesn’t bring back what I felt that day. Which brings me to the point of why we are here in this room today. We are here to express our feelings, to let everything out by writing it and allowing other people to read what we are going through. 

"Many people see us and think we're ok--that we have a beautiful life with nothing to worry about. What they don’t see is our struggles. They only see the mask we wear every day. That's how I felt for years until I joined POPS. I felt ashamed of who I was, of where I came from. I was ashamed of people knowing that my dad was deported when I was 7. I was ashamed of being the daughter of a prisoner, the daughter of an alcoholic, the granddaughter of an alcoholic. Ashamed of being the cousin of guys who spent their time in and out of cells. It’s horrible feeling you have to live afraid that one day one of them won't come home. Having to keep all of that inside is hard. 

"...I'd always act strong and pretend everything was all right, but there were days when depression overtook me. I’d lock myself in the bathroom, turn on the shower, put on some loud music and cry it all out and then come out as if nothing had happened. That’s the strategy I used before joining POPS. 

Joining POPS helped me understand that I wasn’t the only one going through a situation like that. I wasn’t the only one with a family member in prison. I was so surprised when I saw many people I knew in the club.

...There’s a saying that appearances can be deceiving. And it’s true. You may see a person as happy, but in reality they’re dying on the inside. I always tried to be the type of girl who’d be there for people when they needed a friend. ...I'm here to tell you guys that you are not alone. There's no reason to be ashamed. We have to hold our heads up high and show the world we can be somebody new."

Bringing a POPS club into a school is a gift of light and love, and as Leslie's writing makes clear, POPS allows kids to feel safe enough to speak up, to create, and to connect. That was the light and love she brought to the students at Mark Twain Middle School last May in a pilot program in collaboration with Cedars Sinai Trauma Center's Share & Care Program.

We are working to continue this partnership, and our POPS grads are leading the way. In fact, because of our donor support, POPS recently hired three of our graduates, Valeria De La Torre who has become our Volunteer Coordinator, Karen Arellano, our Communications Intern, and Victor Zapata, our Social Media Intern. With your support, we can continue to expand horizons. 

We are ever grateful to be sharing this journey with you.

With boundless gratitude,
Amy Friedman
Executive Director and Co-Founder
POPS the Club
*All participants have given permission for use of their names and photographs.
Established in 2014, POPS the Club is a 501(3) with a "Silver Level of Transparency"
on Guidestar, EIN number 46-4535915. All donations are tax-deductible.
Valeria De La Torre, POPS Volunteer Coordinator
Valeria De La Torre, POPS Volunteer Coordinator
Victor Zapata, Social Media, back in the day...
Victor Zapata, Social Media, back in the day...
Leslie, a POPS the Club grad
Leslie, a POPS the Club grad

Links:

 
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