When Marilyn Perez-Garcia ended up in foster care at 15, college seemed an unachievable dream. This fall, after
three years at Santa Monica College—with the support of SMC’s Guardian Scholars program and her own hard work—she
is headed to the University of California, Riverside on a full scholarship.

The SMC Guardian Scholars program provides support serv-
ices to foster youth, for whom educational disparities are
a harsh reality. According to the National Working Group
on Foster Care and Education, although 84 percent of high school-aged foster youth want to attend college, but only
20 percent of those who graduate from high school move on to college, while only 2 percent to 9 percent of former foster youth obtain bachelor’s degrees.

To break the pattern, the Guardian Scholars program offers academic, financial aid and mental health counseling as well as career planning and workshops addressing essential life skills such as stress management and financial literacy. Six SMC Guardian Scholars, including Perez-Garcia—who eventually plans to go to law school or a master’s program in psych-ology—are transferring to four-year institutions this year.

“I was pretty lost when I went in there,” says Perez-Garcia of the Guardian Scholars office. “They helped me find my way into the right courses so I could eventually transfer. The most beneficial thing was being able to walk into the Guard-
ian Scholars office knowing that they’d never turn me away, even if I just came in there to talk.”

Debra Joseph-Locke, the senior student services specialist who oversees Guardian Scholars at SMC, prides herself on maintaining an open-door policy. “I tell students I will
see them at any time if I’m not in another meeting,” she says. “Many stop by because they are in crisis.”

Housing and hunger are among the major challenges. “Many students are homeless or living in their car,” says Joseph-Locke. “They don’t necessarily tell you that right off the bat. It takes time to gain their trust.”

Students who self-identify as foster youth in their financ-
ial aid or SMC applications are then contacted about the Guardian Scholars program. The program also receives referrals from high schools, caregivers and social workers. Those who choose to join Guardian Scholars complete a short in-take application and then meet with Joseph-Locke one-on one to arrange counseling and other support—from housing to medication and from food assistance to transportation support to ensure they can get to and from their classes. The staff even helps students register for auto insurance
if needed, and students are reimbursed for non-tuition expenses like the health fee.

SMC received a three-year grant from the Angell Foundation of $48,000 per year to establish Guardian Scholars, and additional support came through grants from the S. Mark Taper Foundation, as well as the Stuart Foundation and the Sidney Stern Memorial Trust.

Meanwhile, partnerships with UCLA and Loyola Marymount University give participants access to information on transferring to universities and activities to enhance
their academic futures and build a network of support. Organized visits to the UCLA and LMU campuses, as well as California State University, Northridge; and California State University, Los Angeles, also help student make decisions about the best fit for their academic ambitions.

Now in its third year, the SMC Guardian Scholars program
is steadily growing. The first year saw 59 students enter the program, with 75 participating the second year. “We expect even more for the third year,” says Joseph-Locke, adding that many more who are eligible have not yet taken advantage of the program because of the stigma associated with foster care.

“Those who choose not to join are often those who need it the most,” she says. “We provide support, not labeling. We make them feel part of the fabric of the college.”

The three-year grant from the Angell Foundation runs
out in June 2016 and SMC will seek new funding for Guard-
ian Scholars including through SB 1023, a bill signed by Governor Brown last September which authorized the Calif-
ornia Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to provide additional funds to up to 10 selected community col-lege districts for special support services for foster youth.

In April, SMC Guardian Scholars held its first awareness week—designed not just to spread word about the program
but also to break down stereotypes about foster youth.

“They want to be productive,” says Joseph-Locke. “They
want to be advocates and serve others. Many go into ser-
vice careers, like social work.”

Perez-Garcia—who helped other foster youth by interning
at the juvenile dependency court—says that, while she
was bullied in high school for being put into foster
care, she felt accepted by Guardian Scholars. “My mes-
sage to anyone in foster care is to know that education
is truly a chance at a better life,” she says.



“SNEAKY OLE TIME” by two-time Grammy winner and five-time Songwriter of the year composer Paul Overstreet with book by
Mazur will open 3,000 miles from Broadway Saturday night, and
run Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm through September 19, 2015 at the Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Avenue in Santa Monica.

Overstreet (BMI, Hall of Fame – NSAI) chose to launch his latest musical at the Ruskin. Overstreet has charted 16 singles on Bill-board, including two #1 hits. Vocalists Tanya Tucker, Kenny Chesney, Alison Krauss, The Judds, and Randy Travis have all covered Overstreet’s songs.

Mazur said, “A songwriter who can make you roar with laughter one minute and move you to tears in the next has a truly unique talent. My goal in writing the book is simple to state but hard to achieve: to match the heart, the wit, and the soul of Paul’s songs.”

Day drinking strangers in a Tennessee honky-tonk discover that they have a lot more in common than they ever could have imagined. “Sneaky Old Time,” a cosmic and comic exploration of love and/or marriage is built around twenty-two of Overstreet’s greatest songs, including “Forever and Ever,” “Amen,” and “When You Say Nothing at All.” The World Premiere goes straight to the heart of what it means to fall in (and out) of love, with the play’s characters designed to give voice to disparate perspectives, from ”I’d Choose You Again” to (“You Are the Reason We’re) Not Going to Make It.” No matter what brings them all together to hash it out on a Wednesday afternoon, nobody leaves unchanged.

Overstreet (Music/Lyrics) has written and co-written 27 top ten songs, his first being George Jones’ “Same Ole Me.”

Randy Travis, Tanya Tucker, Alison Kraus, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, and Glen Campbell are just a few of the artists who have recorded Paul’s songs. “When
You Say Nothing at All” was released in the motion picture, “Notting Hill,” starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Gant.

Tickets are $30 ($25 for students, seniors, and guild mem-
bers) and can be purchased in advance by calling (310) 397-3244 or online at Ample free parking is available at the theater.

Mazur has written or co-written the screenplays for “Liar, Liar,” “Heatbreakers” (MGM), “The Crooked E” (CBS), “Wedding Wars” (A&E), “Without a Paddle II” (Paramount), and “Jingle All The Way II” (Fox). At RGT, Steve has written two dozen L.A. Café Plays over the past five years, and was included in “The Best of L.A. Café Plays.”

OUR PRODUCTION TEAM:Michael Myers (Director), Cliff Wagner (Musical Director), John Ruskin (Artistic Director), Yonta Taiwo (Producer), Mike Reilly (Lighting design/Production Manager), Chip Bolcik (Sound Designer), Tor Campbell (Choreographer), Paul Ruddy (Casting/CSA), and Nicole Millar (Stage Manager)

Ruskin’s Healing Through The Arts program brings their actors into Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA to work with and entertain the children. The CAFÉ PLAYS, created by RGT are produced and celebrating their 10th anniversary. RGT supporters Dylan McDermott, Ed Asner, Chris Mulkey, Olivia d’Abo, and other industry celebrities joined to produce the Best of Café Plays (both shows sold out within hours). Anthony Hopkins, David Mamet, Tony Franciosa, and Ed O’Neill are just some of the noted guests to teach master classes at the Ruskin.

Twitter @RuskinGroupThtr and


LA Theatre Works Announces 2015-2016 Season

For its 2015-2016 season, L.A. Theater Works, directed by Susan Albert Loewenberg, has assembled a sterling company of actors, including Richard Dreyfuss, Alfred Molina, Harry Hamlin, Kate Burton, Jane Kaczmarek, Jenna Fischer, Hector Elizondo, Christina Hendricks and others, and cast them in
a stunning sequence of classic and contemporary plays.

The 2015-2016 season will get off to a devastating start with Richard Dreyfuss, Harry Hamlin and Alan Mandell in “Judgment at Nurenberg,” an adaptation of the 1961 Academy Award nominated motion picture starring Spencer Tracy,
Burt Lancaster and Maximilian Schell. The play by Abby
Mann opened on Broadway in 2001.

“We’re mixing plays like Nuremberg, “ Jane Eyre” and “As
You Like It” with more contemporary work like “The Money Shot,” “God of Carnage” and “The Mountaintop,” Loewenberg said. “We have a strong following of theater lovers here in LA, as well as listeners across America and around the world, that compel us to work at the top of our game, and
to be entertaining, educational and relevant.”

LA Theatre Works performs each play at the James Bridges Theater at UCLA five times and records it for subsequent broadcast on public radio in 60 major markets across the country, daily on the air in China and streamed on the internet. Their award-winning recordings, along with scripts, are available worldwide for use as teaching tools in a variety of classes including Theater, English Litera-
ture and English as a Second Language.

“Being in the audience at LA Theatre Works, you see the
best of the best working at their craft, not in costume,
not with props, but with an intensity and depth that is impossible to describe,” Loewenberg went on. “I promise a unique experience: theatre at its most engaging, dynamic
and intimate.”

The 2015-2016 season begins with “Nuremberg.” September 24-27. On October 22-25, 2015, “Steel Magnolias” by Robert Harling, with Kate Burton, Jeanie Hackett and Jane Kaczmarek, will be performed.

For more information about LA Theatre Works, the full roster of plays and to purchase tickets go


Eunice Kennedy Shriver opened the first Special Olympics
in 1968 – with 1,000 athletes participating. She was inspired by her sister, Rosemary, who had intellectual disabilities.

Mrs. Shriver’s only daughter, Maria, said, “That was my mother’s vision, to change the world through sports for people with intellectual disabilities.”

In 1973, Los Angeles hosted the Special Olympics World Games for the first time with 2,500 athletes at UCLA.

“You will jump and throw farther than most of us in the stands ever will dream of doing,” Eunice Shriver said.

Going forward, gold medalists from the traditional Olympics began lending their support, and the Special Olympics went international.

“You are teaching all nations the healing power of the
human spirit,” Eunice Shriver said.

In 2003, the Summer Games moved outside the United States for the first time with 6,500 athletes in Dublin. The games hadn’t been held in the U.S. since, but, in 2011, L.A. submitted a bid to change that.

Now, the L.A. Coliseum that hosted the traditional Olympics in 1932 and the Summer Games in 1984 is the site of its biggest show in decades.

25 competitions are being held around town, including football at UCLA, swimming at USC, bowling at L.A. Live, horse-riding in Burbank, golfing in Griffith Park and sailing in Long Beach. Admission is free to all the competitions.

When Mrs. Shriver began gathering children in her Maryland
back yard, there was no place in the world for intellectual-
ly disabled children to be. They were outcasts in their own countries – ignored, overlooked. Mrs. Shriver found that unacceptable, and so she developed the Special Olympics, and remade the world to accommodate them, through the Special Olympics.

Today, millions of intellectually disabled children live in hundreds of countries that, thanks to Mrs. Shriver, have literally been redesigned to serve these remarkable young people.

Eunice Shriver is one of the handful of people who have improved the world profoundly and permanently.

As she said, “If you are aware of a problem and you have the ability to solve it, you are obliged to proceed.”

And, part whirlwind, part genius, part angel, Eunice Kennedy Shriver proceeded!


Jon Christensen writes: Changes afoot at UCLA mean changes for this column.

Mark Gold and I have had a good, fun run together for two years here at LA Observed. Mark has recently been appointed associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability at UCLA, where he is focusing on the grand challenge of creating a sustainable LA. As a result, he won’t have time to contribute regularly here, though you can be sure he’ll continue to share his insight and wisdom on environmental issues publicly, as he did in a recent op-ed in the LA Times arguing that the LA Department of Water and Power must raise rates dramatically to pay for making our city water system more sustainable. Mark was associate director and acting director at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, where we worked together for the past three years, and before that, as I suspect every one of our readers knows, he enjoyed a long, successful run at Heal the Bay.

After a global search, Peter Kareiva, chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy for the past decade, is joining UCLA as the new director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. Peter is a good friend, too. As a journalist, I’ve watched his transformative work in conservation closely for the past 15 years. Together, we taught a research course at Santa Clara University on urban nature, and we’re planning a yearlong research project on urban nature here in Los Angeles with an interdisciplinary team of seniors at UCLA beginning this fall. You can read more about why Peter is coming to UCLA here. It’s a great pleasure to welcome him to LA and to see his infectious enthusiasm for his new hometown.
As for this column, stay tuned for a reboot. Coming soon!
I’m scanning the horizon and thinking about where this column could go. If you have any thoughts, let me know.
I can be reached at

More by Jon Christensen and Mark Gold: