Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the organization Create Now, and what inspired you to begin this endeavor (originally known as Write Now!)?
Jill Gurr: Create Now is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1996 that helps youth find their voices through arts mentoring and education. We serve vulnerable children ages 2-21 with our healing programs in writing, visual arts, music, performing arts, fashion and digital media. Kids who have been abused, neglected, homeless, incarcerated, and dealing with other major challenges learn to communicate in a positive manner as they bond with adult role models who serve as mentors. Our workshops help them to find jobs and careers in the arts.
We also help prevent abuse, violence, and homelessness by providing comprehensive programs to disadvantaged students in Title 1 schools who receive zero arts education.
Each year, we also bring thousands of these "forgotten children," those who have fallen through the cracks, to concerts, plays, and other cultural events at premiere venues in the region. We have directly reached over 37,000 of the most troubled youth in Southern California during the last 20 years.
I worked in the entertainment industry as a Script Supervisor for many years, traveling around the world and living in exotic places while working with famous actors and directors. While working on two local movies, my life was changed. Menace II Society woke me up about the reality of how tough life on the streets could be. We were shooting My Family on a weeknight, and it was around 3 in the morning. There were two brothers ages 8 and 11 hanging out with the crew. I was shocked! They told me that they didn’t know where their mother was, and their father didn’t give a bleep. I found out that while LA is one of the wealthiest and most glamorous cities in the world, we also have one of the highest poverty rates, and 45,000 gang members. Los Angeles has more homeless children and foster youth than anywhere else in the country, and more incarcerated youth (20,000 each year) locked up in the world.
I had to do something! I’m also a screenwriter. I’ve written 16 original scripts and seven as a writer-for-hire. Two of my scripts were produced with known actors. I spent a year trying to volunteer to teach a writing workshop at probation facilities in Los Angeles, but no one would return my calls. After the LA riots in 1992, I joined a volunteer group and met Wanda Patterson who worked at a boys’ detention camp and she got me through all the “red tape.”
I taught a Screenwriting Workshop to 30 teenage boys who were locked up for very serious crimes, like rape, attempted assault, and grand theft. I discovered that many of these boys were illiterate, but when my program ended, they had learned how to read and write, while others wanted to go back to school or enter college. One tough gang leader even had tattoos removed from his neck and hands.
Seeing the incredible impact on these kids, I launched a second Screenwriting workshop at a co-ed detention facility and I got the same results. I shared my experience with another writer, Erika Clark, and she called me the following week to report that Leslie Stevens, her producing professor at the American Film Institute, was so impressed by my idea and passion to help these high-risk youth that he was donating $5,000 to start a nonprofit organization.
The organization that I founded in 1996 was initially named Write Now! with the mission to teach literacy through different forms of creative writing; however, it became apparent that many of these kids preferred other forms of creativity, such as music, dance, and art. In 1998, the organization’s name was changed to Create Now, and we have been helping thousands of troubled youth ever since, more than 37,000 to date.
BD: What can you share about the individuals involved with Create Now and their efforts towards providing youth with opportunities to find their voice through creative arts and education?
JG: Create Now has an amazing staff that is very dedicated to our mission. They work tirelessly and are paid much less than they’re worth. We’re a small grassroots charity at the moment, but at the “tipping point” of growing and expanding our outreach. This is thanks to our Board of Directors, which includes volunteers who are passionate about what we’re doing, and volunteers who help out with our committees (Fundraising, Marketing, Finances, etc.).
There are many wonderful people in our world who want to make a difference, especially in children’s lives. Create Now makes it easy for volunteers to do this, since we match artists, writers, musicians, actors, and other creative individuals with the neediest kids in the community, close to where they live or work.
We train volunteers on how to mentor youth who are dealing with challenges, such as abuse, abandonment, and homelessness that often result in mental health or behavioral disorders. We also provide our volunteers with arts supplies and equipment, and organize the schedule so it’s totally convenient. If they only have an hour or so to contribute, not a problem. We arrange the arts classes for when they’re available to teach. It they have specific goals, then we help them to develop their curriculum and lesson plans. We culminate the workshops with a party for the kids and they each get a gift bag with a unique Certificate of Completion and other lasting souvenirs.
BD: Who are some of the other organizations that have partnered with Create Now?
JG: Create Now has around 100 partner agencies in our network, such as emergency shelters, foster group homes, rehab centers, detention facilities, and Title 1 schools where students receive no arts education. All of these agencies are also nonprofits that are struggling for funding just to provide basic services to these troubled kids, such as food and shelter, therapy, and case management. They’re so grateful for Create Now’s arts programs, since they know that the arts are therapeutic and also encourage kids to stay in school.
We’re also grateful to all of the theatre companies, concert promoters, and other creative groups like Cirque du Soleil, the Grammy Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for donating free tickets for the youth we serve to experience Cultural Journeys.
We couldn’t do our work without support from individual donors and foundations that give us funding through their contributions and grants. 85% of every dollar received goes directly to implement our arts programs.
BD: What are the biggest hurdles to providing arts education and mentoring to Southern California’s youth?
JG: Money, money, money! I’ve volunteered much of my time for the past 20 years, but while my dedication to Create Now is profound, it’s impossible to survive without money. We also need funding to buy musical instruments, computers, arts materials, and gifts for the kids. Also, there’s so much need to help the tens of thousands of vulnerable children in Los Angeles and adjacent counties. We constantly get requests from youth agencies and schools, but we’re limited in our outreach because we need to hire more program staff.
BD: How can other individuals get involved with the organization, and what are a few ways that community members can truly make a difference?
JG: People who want to volunteer with Create Now to mentor the kids and teach the arts can fill out our application at this link.
If they want to support the organization by joining one of our committees, assisting with publicity and marketing, and helping to build our infrastructure, they can fill out our volunteer application at the same link.
If anyone can donate money or in-kind materials, they can click this link.
We can’t do this alone, so any assistance that community members can give to Create Now is greatly appreciated!
BD: Are there any other fundraising events or activities that you are currently working on that you would like to share with our readers?
JG: Yes – we’re planning a Luncheon Gala in mid-October with celebrities that will take place at a luxury hotel in Los Angeles or Beverly Hills. The theme is a “Masquerade,” and guests will have the chance to buy masks that are created by our youth, or to design their own. There will be a number of our kids performing, and selling their artwork and jewelry. We’re looking for corporate sponsors for this event, and individuals or companies to buy tables, tickets, and advertising space in the program, and to contribute auction items. We’ll be posting details on our website as we get closer to the event. We’re also hosting smaller fundraising events before then. If readers want more information, they can check our website for updates at www.createnow.org.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about Create Now?
JG: I encourage them to check out our website, which features our latest programs and events. They can also sign up for our newsletter, which is sent out once a month. I also suggest they visit our YouTube Channel so they can see our programs in action and hear testimonials from the children we serve, their parents, teachers and guardians.
Also, please sign up for our social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. We try to update them daily and also share inspirational facts about the arts and the kids we serve.
We really appreciate everyone’s support because there’s no way that this can be done alone. It takes a village…
If you have a volunteer opportunity or an important cause that could use the assistance of a few geeks, please email the details to barbra (at) fanbasepress (dot) com.