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Activist's Program for Youths Is Going Places

November 24, 1994|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At 5-foot-1 with a freckled face, Sheila Perry, 34, could be mistaken for one of the scores of children that always surround her.

Indeed, one bus driver made that mistake last weekend during a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with 85 of Perry's charges.

"Little girl," he scolded when Perry hopped between two buses during rest stops. "You've got to stop jumping from bus to bus and sit down."

Perry turned, using a tone that can silence a roomful of chirping children, shame a rebellious teen-age gang member or coax free Lakers tickets for 60 kids out of a pro basketball player:

"I am Sheila Perry, director and founder of Make Me a Believer Foundation and the organizer of this trip," Perry said she told the bus driver. He cooperated from then on.

That, in a nutshell, is how Perry, the mother of a 9-year-old daughter, had managed for the past four years, without public funding, to take scores of children from Northwest Pasadena on trips to movie studios, rodeos, skating rinks, amusement parks, beaches, parks and television show tapings. She has used her commanding tone to persuade, cajole, wheedle, beg and plead with others to pitch in with bus rides, tickets, food and invitations to homes.

The kids are those she knows from the streets, from neighbors and from friends. They are children, she said, who plead with her, "Please, can we go somewhere?"

Born and raised in Pasadena, Perry has worked a variety of jobs, from cosmetologist to secretary to production assistant at a Los Angeles film studio. But her greatest passion has been for the children she saw standing idle on the street corner outside her mother's Northwest-area home.

For them, Perry has spent most of her spare time and money.

The children need relief, Perry says--they need a view of life different from their community's grim streets so they can set goals and rise above their surroundings.

In an effort to support grass-roots efforts that help Pasadena's children avoid violence, the Coalition for a Non-Violent City distributed $75,000 in city money to 17 neighborhood-based programs. The $5,000 her Make Me a Believer Foundation received from the coalition was Perry's first grant ever.

The small taste of public funding, used for the overnight Monterey trip, has doubled Perry's zeal to find permanent funding for her activities.

"The little bit of money I've had, I've done all this," she said. "Can you imagine if I had a whole lot, what I could do?"

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