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At-risk youth lured away from crime by art



Youth Cornerstone's "After School Cool" program targets youth from neighborhoods at risk for juvenile crime, substance abuse, gangs and teen pregnancy, and engages them in art projects all over the metro area.

"We are not an art-for-art's-sake program," said Paul Medina, director of ASC. "We use the arts as a vehicle to develop rapport and make them feel comfortable enough to trust us."

Medina and Assistant Director Nathan Lee take their art program to several Department of Human Services sites around the city, as well as parks, libraries and recreation centers in conjunction with the Oklahoma Arts Commission. Both work with children who are struggling with issues of abandonment, abuse and low self-esteem.

"Once they open up, you wouldn't believe the things these kids say," Lee said. "You think you've heard it all, and then the next day, you hear something that absolutely floors you."

ASC relies heavily on grants to keep the program successful. Last March, a grant allowed ASC to purchase digital cameras for the children to use. Medina gathered the photographs and hosted an art exhibition. By the end of the day, every single picture was sold.

"It was a day that was all about them," Lee said. "Many of them had never been in a situation where it was all about them in a positive way."

The program has grown tremendously since its inception in 1999. While it used to target primarily middle schools, it now reaches anyone between the ages of 8 and 19.

For more information, call 557-0723. "Lauren Parajon

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