Adriana Torres, staff assistant III for the Human Services Division at Reed Park Youth Office in Santa Monica, recently invited the Virginia Avenue Project to partner with CREST (Child Care, Recreation, Enrichment, Sports, Together!), the city’s after-school enrichment program.
Torres joined the Virginia Avenue Project, an after-school arts mentoring program, in 1992.
The Virginia Avenue Project has collaborated with the Santa Monica Police Activities League for the past 16 years, and has provided free after-school programs using the performing arts in conjunction with one-on-one mentoring to help underserved children realize their full potential.
When asked why she felt the Virginia Avenue Project would be an asset to the CREST Program, Torres said, “I remember meeting so many different kids by being in the programs — kids I never would have talked to. It also introduced me to adults who really seemed to care about me, they didn’t have to be there but they kept showing up for me.
“I think the Virginia Avenue Project has depth and teaches values. It taught me more than how to act on stage or how to write a play, it taught me life skills in a fun way, and I want other kids to get to experience what I experienced.”
Leigh Curran, founder and artistic director of the Virginia Avenue Project, remembers Torres as a quiet girl who let others take the lead. Yet it was Torres who helped Curran, the professional, on stage, she said.
“It was Adriana’s first performance,” Curran said. “I turned to the audience to say my line, ‘When I was 41 I,Ö’ and I drew a total blank. I turned to Adriana and said: ‘What happened when I was 41?’ And, without missing a beat, Adriana told me.
“The crowed erupted in laughter and I realized at that moment what mentoring is all about — kids and adults learning from each other.”
Curran further stated that her joy comes from seeing so many Virginia Avenue Project youths like Torres return to their communities to give back in some way.
“We are thankful that Adriana has invited us to be a part of her adult life and introduced us to the CREST Program,” said Shelly Wood, executive director of the Virginia Avenue Project. “This is the greatest compliment a program can get — having an alumni invite you to share what you love, to inspire new generations of children.”
The Virginia Avenue Project will be providing Creative Dramatics to kindergartners, first- and second-graders at both Edison Language Academy and Franklin Elementary School starting this month.
As for Torres, she looks forward to a long career with the City of Santa Monica and plans to help the CREST Program grow. She says she knows firsthand the power that enrichment programs like the Virginia Avenue Project can have on others, and her goal is to find the resources so that even more children can benefit.