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Los Angeles | TIMES HOLIDAY FUND

Pasadena Center Puts Focus on Youth Development

November 19, 2002|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

The exterior calm of the tiny Pasadena building, nestled between boarded-up storefronts and one-story homes, belies the bustle within.

In one room, teenagers play on computers, surfing the Internet and doing homework. In another, teachers prepare snacks. And in a third, 60 schoolchildren talk -- all at once.

The building, and the after-school program it shelters, is a project of NATHA, a community group with two explanations for its acronym.

One, Navarro Avenue Tremont Howard Assn., makes it sound like a staid neighborhood watch group, which, in part, it is. The other, Neighbors Acting Together Helping All, demonstrates the organization's other purpose: to be a model for what can happen when people come together to serve their community.

NATHA was founded 11 years ago when residents of the area in northwest Pasadena banded together to fight an onslaught of drugs and gangs.

"We couldn't understand why that element was able to thrive," said Celestine McFearn Walker, a resident of the area and now director of NATHA. "So we decided to do something about it."

Their first priority was helping children. "We noticed that a lot of young people had no specific thing to do after school," Walker said. There was "no one to embrace or support them."

So residents began organizing: first one street, then another. Today, their 4,000-square-foot recreation center serves as many as 100 children a day from three elementary schools. High school and college-age students help with homework -- from algebra to simple paper cutouts for holiday decorations.

They are also there to be role models, to teach lessons learned outside the classroom.

"Our center is centered around youth development," Walker said. "We want to make them strong members of the society, so that they have specific skills to make the transition from adolescence to adulthood."

Walker likes to refer to a child's circle of influence, the many factors that determine who and what a child will become. At NATHA, she said, children are offered a refuge, a place that can serve as a constant in their lives.

"We are trying to make sure we keep that circle consistent," she said. "We are structured so that they can rely on us for whatever support they need."

NATHA is one of several dozen Southern California organizations that received donations from last year's Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.

The annual campaign, established in 2000, is a part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation. The McCormick Tribune Foundation matches the first $700,000 raised at 50 cents on the dollar.

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HOW TO GIVE

Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File No. 56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986. Please do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made on the Web site: www.latimes.com/holidaycampaign.

All donations are tax-deductible. Contributions of $25 or more will be acknowledged in The Times unless a donor requests otherwise. Acknowledgement cannot be guaranteed for donations received after Dec. 18. For more information about the Holiday Campaign, call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.

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