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HEARTS of the CITY

Nurturing Hope

Tutoring program offers youths self-confidence, friendship, learning and--for 11 top students--a trip to Washington.

July 17, 1996|EDWARD J. BOYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Henry Morales is a 13-year-old who will be bused from South-Central Los Angeles to El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills in the fall.

Leslie Carr is a Southwest Airlines marketing manager who makes the short commute from Hermosa Beach to Los Angeles International Airport to work.

Chances that they would even meet, let alone become good friends, would have been remote at best had it not been for a center called Heart of Los Angeles Youth.

They both count themselves lucky to have come together.

Carr is a volunteer mentor in a tutoring program for youngsters at the center, located at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Boulevard. In the year she has worked with Henry, they have both seen dramatic changes.

And those changes are directly responsible for Henry taking his first trip to Washington, where he and 10 other outstanding students from a tutoring program at the center are spending this week, compliments of Southwest Airlines and other sponsors.

Henry earned a seat on the plane by reaching a personal academic best this year--a 3.5 grade-point average at Woodland Hills' Hale Junior High School.

"My tutor and I set a goal to get all A's and Bs," he said. "And I accomplished it. A couple of years ago, I was probably not so sure that I wanted to go to college. Now I definitely know I can go, that I want to go."

Carr said she has learned as much from Henry as he has from her. Just knowing him, she said, has made her appreciate "how lucky we are to live in this city. He has an appreciation for things I take for granted. Going to the beach for him is a big deal. I live in Hermosa Beach."

As she watches his determination to do something with his life, she said she is inspired to give more of herself.

"He wants to go to college, and I think I'm going to have something to do with that," she said.

That Henry has made a dramatic turnaround in his self-confidence, his academics and his ability to express himself is a natural result of Heart of Los Angeles Youth's belief that one adult caring about one child can make all the difference in the world.

More than 600 youngsters are enrolled at the center in programs ranging from arts to athletics, from job placement to tutoring. The center, whose acronym HOLA is Spanish for hello, is providing what it calls realistic alternatives to drugs and gangs.

The best weapon in that struggle is to arm young people with hope, self-esteem and sound values, center officials said.

Crystal Drayton, 14, who also earned a spot on the Washington trip, will enter Crenshaw High School in the fall with renewed confidence in her academic abilities.

"I had no confidence at first," Crystal said. "My tutor told me not to listen to kids at school who put me down, who said I was stupid."

Her tutor, Robin Lister, is a sales representative for Rampage Clothing Co. in Los Angeles. She said tutoring Crystal has made her think about becoming a teacher.

"The first day I tutored her, she barely said two words to me," Lister said. "Since then we talk about everything; her friends, where she wants to go to school. Her grades have improved tremendously. She was so happy to get straight Bs this semester. Before that she had some Ds."

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Crystal raised her grade-point average nearly a point at Los Angeles' Pio Pico Junior High School. Lister credits their friendship as much as the tutoring for the improvement.

"I think she came to trust me," Lister said. "Being with her one on one made more of a difference than her schoolwork."

Carr had a similar experience with Henry.

"Academics don't come if one doesn't feel good about themselves," Carr said, adding that she has taken Henry to work, showing him the airport and talking about opportunities open to him.

Crystal could barely contain her excitement last week as she prepared for the Washington trip--her first time on a plane. She talked about seeing the White House and touring the FBI building.

Henry, who made his maiden flight last year on a trip to Texas, also looked forward to seeing Washington's sights, but one stop outside of Washington caught more of his interest.

"I'm a baseball fan," he said, "and I'm looking forward to going to the Orioles game and seeing Cal Ripken."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Beat

Today's centerpiece profiles Hearts of Los Angeles Youth, a nonprofit group that provides young people with alternatives to gangs and drugs. For more information or to get involved, call (213) 389-1148.

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