UCR Junior Works to Create a Place Where Young People Can Tell the Story of Their Community

Freddy Lopez receives $10,000 grant from Strauss Foundation to start program to help at-risk youth through the arts

Freddy Lopez

UC Riverside junior Freddy Lopez

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — While he was in middle school and high school, Freddy Lopez found an escape from the streets of East Palo Alto, Calif. in an after-school arts program for at-risk youth. Now, with the help of a $10,000 grant from the Donald A. Strauss Foundation, the University of California, Riverside junior is looking to provide a similar opportunity to young people here in Riverside.

The mission of Lopez’s “Art of the P.O.O.R” (People Orchestrating Optimistic Renditions) is to give at least 20 underprivileged local middle and high school students an after-school destination where they can become more confident learners and share, build, empower and expand their artistic skills, their self-esteem and their imagination. In addition to visiting local schools to recruit students, Lopez is also recruiting UCR student volunteers to serve as leaders.

“It’s not a new idea — it’s been done before. But we are going to research how other groups have done projects like these to get ideas from them,” Lopez said. “We want to create a mentor relationship, where UCR students can teach their skills to the younger kids. And maybe they can teach us something as well.”

The proposal for the program impressed the board of directors of the Strauss Foundation, which selected him to receive one of 14 annual grants.

“We selected Freddy Lopez for a few reasons, not least that he proposed a well-designed public service project seeking to help at-risk middle school and high school students, providing them an opportunity to explore and cultivate their artistic interests with multiple, weekly sessions,” said Duncan Strauss, a member of the foundation’s board of trustees. “We were impressed that the objective of these sessions is to yield tangible results — producing plays, recording audio albums and making a documentary film — and less measurable results as well, like developing the student’s imagination and self-esteem.”

Lopez, who is majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in creative writing and theater, said that the idea for Art of the P.O.O.R came from his experience with the City Team Ministries program in East Palo Alto, which challenged his artistic interests and encouraged him to take his education seriously.

“The program helped me stay away from trouble and gave me a place to go hang out after school. I went to relax, practice, and do artistic exercises. It was fun and I loved going there after school,” he said. “It is where I acted in my first play, wrote my first rhyme and held my first microphone to sing. Many of my current achievements are due to this program’s nourishment and hospitality.”

As part of Art of the P.O.O.R, participants will create a play that reflects on and tells the story of Riverside’s Eastside community through skits, music, spoken word and hip-hop performances. They plan to present the play across the Riverside community and at UCR and hope make audio and video recordings of the work.

“We want to ask community members questions, not just about what the problems are, but what they think the solutions are,” Lopez said. “We’ll incorporate these responses into the play. I want to raise awareness, to give the community members a voice and let them stand up for themselves.”

Lopez has also enlisted UCR Associate Professor of Theatre Rickerby Hinds, who will help incorporate hip-hop elements into the play. Hinds said that the potential benefits of the program are huge for participants, the community and the campus.

“I believe that his project has a great potential not only to give voice to the East Side community, but to also begin to forge a stronger relationship with UCR as well,” Hinds said. “Freddy’s vision and ambition for the project are huge, and given what I’ve learned about him in the short time I’ve had him in my class, I believe he will achieve much of his vision.”

For more information on participating in Art of the P.O.O.R or to volunteer, e-mail Lopez at flope014@ucr.edu.

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Additional Contacts

Freddy Lopez
E-mail: flope014@ucr.edu

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