Music and poetry help save runaways

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By Tynika Davis

By Tynika Davis

Lights, camera, auction. An exchange of verses and dollar signs crept from the back of downtown Riverside’s Coffee Depot as Operation SafeHouse, a local shelter for runaways, homeless and unwanted youth, held its first Poetry Jam and Music Fest complete with a silent auction to raise money and awareness for their organization.

The event was held Nov. 15 in the midst of National Runaway Prevention Month, a month Operation SafeHouse has reason to celebrate.

As a non-profit organization, Operation SafeHouse, which has sheltered and serviced 600 clients a year since it opened in 1990, relies mainly on donations from corporations and private funding. However, changes in donations have forced Operation SafeHouse to find secondary funds.  

 “We’re being affected, too,” said Operation SafeHouse Executive Director Kathy McAdara about the effects of the wavering economy.

SafeHouse Coordinator Fonda McGensy planned and coordinated the Poetry Jam and Music Fest and had been working on the fundraiser since October.

“I put a lot of effort into making this event come off smoothly and I’m very proud of how it turned out,” Gensy said.

Responsibilities were also handed out to other Operation SafeHouse staff. Director of Development Katie Cawen was responsible for generating an audience. E-mail invitations were sent out using Operation SafeHouse contacts. Anyone receiving an invitation was encouraged to invite friends and family.

“It’s amazing what can be put together with some time and effort,” Cawen said.

Planning included finding product and service donations from local businesses to auction off. Products included California Pizza Kitchen gift cards and tickets to the Ellen DeGeneres Show. All items collected were used to make themed baskets and were auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Planning for the Poetry Jam and Music Fest also included recruiting entertainment.

Local poet Monette Mo Poetic and her students attended and read personal poems. As Monette read a personal poem from her diary, she set an inspirational tone for the rest of the evening.

“I don’t normally do this,” Monette said. “My diary is very private.”  

Additional poets included Richard Lewis, Jeff Green, Robert Brossfeild and Alice Bailes Bell.

Each poet mixed poems of serious tones and those of a comical nature.  

 When Bell read a poem about the 16-year-old version of her now adult son, her hands shook while she read each verse from the book of poetry she held in her hands.

Riverside based band Them Novus was also asked to be a part of the event.

“It’s an honor being invited to perform for such a good cause,” vocalist Devin Vasquez said. “How could we say no to something like this?”

The Poetry Jam and Music Fest audience included first-time visitors and event veterans.

“This is my second SafeHouse fundraiser and I continue to be impressed,” audience member Maxcine Cooper said. “They put a lot of effort into what they do.”

First-time attendee 17-year-old Christine Rodriguez didn’t walk away as a winning bidder but she did walk away with some valuable information.

“I had no idea that there was a program like this in Riverside,”  Rodriguez said. “I know a lot of people who would find information like this very useful and I can’t wait for SafeHouse to have another event like this one.”

To complement the musicians and poets Executive Director Kathy McAdara had some closing remarks to drive home the purpose of Operation SafeHouse and National Runaway Prevention Month.

“I can tell you without a doubt that someone somewhere is angry,” McAdara said.  

“I can promise you that somewhere a father is coming home angry from a job he hates to a troublemaking son. He will take his anger out on his son and the situation will go too far. The boy will leave his house and come to SafeHouse,” McAdara went on to say, “I can also promise that a mother and her boyfriend will be fighting all weekend in front of the mother’s teenage daughter. A neighbor will call the police and ask the daughter if she would like to come to SafeHouse and she will say yes.”

Although the event was used mainly as a fundraiser, there was an also a core premise to the night.

“These events are a way for people to connect with and learn about SafeHouse,” McGensy said. “We want them to have a good time but we also want them to understand what we do and why we do it.”

The Poetry Jam and Music Fest helped to raise $1,200 for Operation SafeHouse, which according to McGensy is low but good.

A similar event is currently in the making and is on the schedule for February.

All fundraisers are open to the public and newcomers are always welcome to attend. More information about the upcoming fundraiser is available at 951-351-4418 or by e-mail at fondamcgensy@aol.com.

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