An at-risk youth finds direction and a bright future with El Nido’s help

“El Nido can change a person’s perspective, creating positive images for a life that feels good”

Robert and his younger brother grew up in the Pacoima barrio where drugs were everywhere and gangs were a constant threat. When Robert was thirteen, a friend who was in El Nido Family Centers’ Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD) program sponsored by the City of Los Angeles brought him to El Nido. While Robert had managed to stay out of trouble up to that point, his life was totally without direction.

What he saw was spectacular. The wide variety of GRYD program activities, from drumming to mural-making to photography and soccer, presented him with opportunities he never knew existed. Coming from a gang-infested neighborhood, he was able to qualify for the GRYD program and jumped eagerly into every opportunity presented to him.

As a soccer player, Robert was an outstanding goalkeeper on Pacoima’s GRYD soccer team, which won the all-city GRYD championship. This gave him, for the first time in his life, a sense of accomplishment, of overcoming obstacles to achieve a victory. It was the first time but thankfully not his last.

His photography instructor with the GRYD program was an El Nido volunteer, Richard, a former LAUSD art teacher. Richard became Robert’s second father, counseling him and encouraging him not only with photography, but also with his schoolwork, the college admission process and even his personal life. The positive reinforcement offered by Richard and the atmosphere of the GRYD program gave Robert a sense of family, the feeling that he was not alone, but had friends and confidants, and that he should work hard to pursue his dreams.

Nothing exemplifies that hard work more than his senior year at the San Fernando High School Math / Science / Technology Magnet, where he buckled down to get 85 credits in his senior year (25 more than anyone had previously accomplished in LAUSD history), going to school during the day, at night, on weekends and on the Internet in order to get a sufficient number of credits to graduate with his class. Robert is now attending Mission College and hopes to get his undergraduate degree from Pepperdine in four years. His dream is to work as a photographer for National Geographic, so that he can travel and capture the world with his lens. He’d like everyone to know that El Nido can “change a person’s perspective, creating positive images for a life that feels good.”