DionRabouin.com (sort of)

My first story for OnCentral.org

Posted in Articles by dionrabouin on July 5, 2011

I started writing for this blog that is owned by Southern California Public Radio recently. The blog is all about the communities in South LA (formerly South Central, sort of) that get little to no media representation. They don’t have community newspapers or even an online hub where residents can find out what’s happening in the area.

My first post is on this nonprofit called Metro Kidz that hosted a party at Trinity Park last week. Once they get a permalink to my profile, I’m going to add it to the blogroll.

Here’s the Metro Kidz story:

Just before 1 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, a green and yellow van with a familiar portrait of two children painted on the side pulled into Trinity Park. Four people hopped out with loaded Stream Machine pressurized water guns as the kids clamored around the van. One woman, with Stream Machine in tow, shouted over the crowd, “Who wants to get wet?”

After showering the kids with water, the crew unloaded boxes upon boxes of hotdogs, snacks, cherry tomatoes, water balloons and snow cones to give away to the neighborhood children. There was a water fight followed by a feast, dancing and another water fight.

The park spectacular was orchestrated by Metro Kidz, a Christian nonprofit organization that serves youth in the area by spreading their message through free food and fun. Known by kids in the area for its traveling show on wheels, Metro Kidz is a regular weekly fixture at Trinity Park.

“My kids like all the activities and I like that my daughters learn about Jesus,” said Cintya Cobarrueias, a mother of three who sat in on the day’s festivities.

For younger park parishioners, the sight of the MetroKidz bus means two things.

“We come here to get free stuff and have fun,” said eight-year-old Stephon Wright.

Metro Kidz was created by Pastor Julian O. Toriz, known to the volunteers and staff of the organization as Pastor J.

Toriz grew up in East LA surrounded by guns, drugs and violence and said he was headed down the wrong path. The moment that changed his life was seeing his friend shot through the back of the head.

“I had seen people shot and stabbed and all kinds of stuff before, but I guess that was the last straw that helped me to understand that I was on the same road, it was just a matter of time,” Toriz said.

His friend survived and brought Toriz to a church in his neighborhood. That got him involved in working with children and it stuck. He became a licensed minister and eventually founded Metro Kidz in 1993 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The group has been working with kids in housing projects and low-income neighborhoods around Los Angeles ever since.

Toriz said Thursday’s water party and barbecue was just one of many events the group puts on for children in the neighborhood. Previously, they’ve held special events for Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas and Thanksgiving.

“In partnering with different groups and churches we’ve done [events] where we’ve had as many as 3,000 people — kids adults, teenagers come out,” said Toriz. “We’ve taken kids to camp in the mountains for a week at a time. We’ve taken beach days where we take families to the beach. We try to create a vacation for them, even if it’s just one day.”

The kids certainly get a vacation from the heat, as they ran around the park in soaking wet t-shirts eating hot dogs and chips. The group cooked more than 500 hot dogs and a few adults in the area partake in the meal as well.

Olga Globensky, a Metro Kidz staffer who has worked with the group since she came to the U.S. 11 years ago, attested to the importance of little events like this one.

“A lot of these kids, they’ve been through really rough times. They have a lot of problems and people can’t imagine how big the problems they have are,” said Globensky. “But when they come here, they forget about all that stuff. I see that these kids are smiling and they are happy for this day. That’s what it’s about.”

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