/ FOR THE REGISTER
COSTA MESA – Slowly, 14-year-old Cheyenne Brown traces a brush along the petals of a giant flower, outlining each yellow leaf in a mellow streak of pink.
Alongside her, Mexican muralist Daniel Camacho, 50, adds his own signature touches to the mural, which is being painted outside of the Save Our Youth center on the grounds of Rea Elementary School.
For four days Camacho – whose murals and other works have been displayed at the Cesar Chavez Library in Oakland as well as in Mexico and Germany – worked with eight SOY teens to create the mural, titled “Harvesting Your Dreams.”
The mural depicts hands gripping onto multicolored flowers, each portraying elements essential for an adolescent’s positive growth.
One flower is shown with an open book with a tree sprouting from its pages; another flower portrays a soccer ball. A third shows the face of the sun and the moon, which Camacho said represents creativity.
Camacho, who works to bring awareness to Mexican and Latino culture through his art, said the mural is meant to show what adolescents need to focus on in order to accomplish their goals.
“You have a garden,” Camacho said of the mural created from spray paint and acrylics. “You feed it with water and with food and then you have a beautiful garden. It’s symbolic about where we are now and where we will be.”
Save Our Youth, a non-profit organization that provides free after-school care and academic enrichment for Newport-Mesa Unified School students, originally started in the 1990s as a violence prevention program.
The program now focuses on encouraging students to stay in school and to strive for higher education.
Save Our Youth – which is funded through private donations, grants and fundraisers – keeps youth from schools such as Costa Mesa High School and Back Bay Continuation School from being on the streets.
It offers tutoring, homework help, plus art and music activities, including DJing and art and talent shows and provides a place for kids to hang out after school.
Liliana Ovandu, 18, has attended the program since seventh grade. The Orange Coast College student said the programs offered through Save Our Youth got her through her difficult times.
“The music (program) helped me a lot. When I was in middle school…I was growing up, I didn’t know what I was doing with myself…I was getting depressed and music helped me a lot,” she said. “It was nice coming here and receiving help. They keep you on track and they know what’s good for you.”
Eduardo Iniestra – arts and music program coordinator for the organization – said that through the mural project, he tried to get as many kids as possible to work together to create a work of art.
“My goal is to empower them through art,” said Iniestra, who also attended SOY. “Whatever they want to do, they have more confidence to do it because they have done a show, they have painted a mural.”
Camacho said he supports projects such as this because they keep youth from getting involved in dangerous activities.
“If the kids don’t have these programs they are going to get loose in life,” Camacho said.
Camacho, who was born in Mexico City and now lives in Oakland, has dabbled in art for the past 33 years. He was invited to work with participants of the Save Our Youth program by one of the program’s directors, Bobby Lovell, who is also his mother-in-law.
Camacho has painted numerous murals throughout the world, including in the Czech Republic and Costa Rica. His work hangs in the National Museum of Art in Chicago, among other venues.
The muralist has been helping non-profit organizations for much of the time that he has been engaged in art.
“I’ve been working with non-profits for around 25 years I really like to contribute to these kinds of things because I am part of these people,” Camacho said. “And I feel like I have to do something with them to help them grow. For me it was hard to go to a university when I was young and I know how hard it is for them to do the same thing in neighborhoods like this.”
Iniestra said that the program is always looking for volunteers and donors. He said the group is in need of a patient volunteer who can help teach children how to play one of the many instruments that are available at Save Our Youth.
“Some kids get cooped up in the house and they have nothing to do,” Iniestra said. “I’d rather have them out being productive adding something else to the world besides just another comment on Facebook.”