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COVER STORY : A Resolve Born From the Ashes


On Thursday, it will be six months since the city erupted after four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in the Rodney G. King beating trial. For many, the rage of the riots gave way to determination, whether that meant fighting the system, finding jobs for youths or focusing on urgent community needs.

Churches Focus on Communities' Needs

Joel Hernandez waited years to learn how to gently strum a guitar to produce the melodies of his native Central America. But it was only through donations made in the wake of the April-May riots that his church, the Pico-Union Ministry, could afford to create a guitar class for people like him.

"There are many new things that are coming because of the riots, like music and more English classes, but we still need help," Hernandez said while plucking a guitar.

The Pico-Union ministry and others affiliated locally with the United Methodist Church have launched community outreach efforts in response to the riots. From English as a Second Language classes in Pico-Union to a food bank in Koreatown, the ministries are focusing on the diverse community needs that have become apparent.

"Before the riots there wasn't anything for the people to do. Now there's even a greater necessity," said Father Tomas Lopez, pastor of the Pico-Union Ministry. "There are people in the community who need to be in touch with other people--to talk and to share."

In addition to offering more services in Pico-Union, Koreatown and South-Central, the Los Angeles District of the United Methodist Church has created a crisis response team that has proposed ways to rebuild these communities. And the church is also expanding its outreach efforts at La Trinidad Church in East Los Angeles.

Besides the guitar classes aimed at teaching about Central American culture, the Pico-Union Ministry runs a youth program and holds English as a Second Language classes and Bible study.

With a new language and culture here in the United States, Latino youths "need to learn to combine both realities--where their families come from and where they are now--so they don't forget their roots," Lopez said.

The riots highlighted the urgent need for food, shelter, clothing and language education, church officials said, and several church programs have flourished into major service centers.

In Koreatown, the Rev. Hyun Seung Yang, pastor of the YET United Methodist Church, opened the Korean American Food & Shelter Services, a food distribution center. Yang started the food center the day after the riots and has received donations from numerous organizations, including $20,000 from his parent church.

Housed in the parking lot of the Oriental Mission Church, the center has distributed food to more than 1,000 families a week since the civil unrest.

The center is a source of emotional support as well as sustenance, said Sylvia Lim, one of thousands of people who have received boxes of food since the riots. Lim, whose clothing store at Vermont Avenue and 8th Street was looted during the riots, admires the volunteers who staff the food center's tables.

"I appreciate the charity here and the elderly volunteers, they are amazing. They help me emotionally to keep going," she said. "You need some kind of support to keep going."

The program began as an effort to assist Korean-American riot victims, but it has since grown to serve anyone in need.

"This is really a melting pot here, a multiracial, multiethnic, ecumenical effort," Yang said. "This will always be a need for this and not only for Korean-Americans."

Elston Carr contributed to this story.

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