Posts Tagged 'education'


Saturday I went to the Art Center. On Montgomery just south of Ojai Avenue, the Center has been around many years. The “Art” in Art Center is all-encompassing. Paintings decorate the walls whenever there is a special exhibit. Photographs have their place in the sun once or twice a year. Music fills the vacant space when featured artists ply their wares to those of us who can manage the folding chairs that so often cause my fanny to wish the show was over.

The Art Center also hosts legitimate theater. Musicals, comedies and dramas are staged by volunteers who take their roles seriously, without pay, both behind the scenes and as performers.

It was with some trepidation that I pondered Sheila’s invitation to accompany her and Sid to Bakersfield Mist, the current offering at the Center. While the cast works hard for all plays, some performances are occasionally shaky and leave me with memories that make it harder to give the next offering a fair shake. I go anyway, hoping to find my concerns unwarranted.

Evening performances are challenging…for me, not the performers. A glass of wine with dinner tests my ability to remain upright in my seat. I begin to lose my focus, my lids feel like they weigh five pounds each, and my head slowly begins a downward spiral that culminates in the loss of all my senses. Except for occasional sensory interruptions, I could remain comatose through an entire first act. I dread repeating the event that occurred some years ago when I sat in the front row, fell asleep and then awoke to find the leading man staring directly at me with laser-like precision. I remained rigidly awake and unblinking for the balance of the performance.

So, bursting with low expectations, I went to the Center. And I was rewarded with a delightful, sorrowful play that was one-act, ninety minutes long, without intermission. Periodically testing my bladder content did not ruin the performance. The cast had only two actors, both perfectly suited to their roles.

Ninety minutes shot by. The audience erupted and stood up as one, without the customary survey of the crowd to determine whether a standing ovation was warranted. I admit that I normally feel pushed into the obligatory standing mode without really meaning it. On this occasion, I did not need any prodding. Bravo.

Acting and reacting is not limited to the legitimate theater. The Gables is a retirement facility on the other end of Montgomery in mid-town Ojai. A complex of buildings from the 1950’s, it is walking distance to the Art Center, but miles away in the people it serves and the activities offered to them.

On Friday, the Music Festival brought the Bravo Program to the Gables. Bravo caters to school aged children. In large part, the program fosters an appreciation for music to kids as young as five or six. I have regularly been asked to take photos of these educational activities, which usually occur in Ojai Valley public school classrooms.

On this occasion, the Gables had invited third grade children from two local schools to entertain the seniors in residence. I and my camera arrived in the Gables community meeting room just as the senior participants were taking their chairs. Most were in their 70’s and 80’s, and all were women. Some were in wheelchairs. Others had personal assistants.

About twenty kids were accompanied by two young, inordinately lovely teachers. Bounding into the room with all the energy of eight-year-olds, they took up positions in the space made by the admiring seniors. Laura, the Bravo leader, engaged the children in a few warm-up musical exercises that included songs and a bit of dancing.

Prompted by Laura, the kids then made their way to the seated seniors. Selecting a senior of their choice, each child offered a hand, introduced themselves and engaged the seniors in conversation. A bit cautious at first, the children and the seniors warmed to the occasion. An explosion of smiles filled the room and the sound of both young and old voices merged into a playful crescendo.

Seniors who were able, rose from their seats and assumed what could best be described as a conga line. Along with the children, they began a twisty-turny parade that brought delight to the faces of the marchers as well as to the less able sitters.

I found myself taking photos with abandon. Happiness shone from elderly faces that perhaps have had too few similar opportunities. I hardly knew where to point my camera as the choices were unlimited. Children of that age are unbridled and have sweet faces that demand to be captured in a photo. On this day, these lucky seniors shared those characteristics and the beauty of the moment.

Frowns and any reluctance to participate were not in attendance. Seniors became enthusiastic children willing to learn, while children became aware of their ability to brighten lives that perhaps needed it.

Toward the end of the morning, Laura asked the children if anyone wanted to say something about their trip to the Gables. Half of the eight-year-olds met expectations by freely speaking their mind with uncensored abandon. I liked meeting old people. I think they’re just like us. It was really nice performing for real people. I’m really happy they’re still alive.

The next day I began the usually tedious job of selecting and editing the most promising photos. However, on this occasion I was disappointed when my work ended. Through the marvel of Photoshop I had relived those precious moments when young and old had come together to brighten the other.

Lives had been enriched…mine included.  Bravo.

And then I met a man…

Sweetie and I had dinner with Frank and Doris last night.  Doris cooked some great chili.  I baked a coffee cake that had nearly a pound of fat-laden butter in it.  Yummy.

We started with wine and conversation.  Frank’s brother and wife came from Woodland Hills to share the evening.  Subjects included AIG bonuses, toxic assets, the Holocaust, Afghanistan.  The usual stuff that everyone has an opinion on but no good solution.

 “Are you going to the Ojai Music Festival fund raiser in May?” Frank asked.  “You know, the one that’ll help raise money to rebuild Libbey Bowl.    I said “The invitation is on Sweetie’s desk. I’m in my procrastination stage.”

Frank’s question made me remember the Jim Lehrer News Hour that aired Friday.  It included a piece about Pomona high school kids.  The kids who created the film Is Anybody Listening.  It’s something like what Dorothea Lange  did during the Depression, photographing  poor souls whose faces reflected what the whole country was feeling.

Only this time it was live, on TV.  Kids looking into the camera, telling their stories.  Kids whose folks had lost jobs and homes.  Refrigerators with five pounds of dry oatmeal from the Food Pantry and a box of frozen burritos.  Kids who said “I’m hungry a lot of the time.”  Kids who have to go to work to support their folks.  Cancelled college plans.  Bright kids with an uncertain future.  Stuff that brings tears to your eyes.  Stuff that makes you want to do something.

I looked at the Music Festival invitation this morning.  It’s filled with a list of supporters.  Familiar names.  Good folks.  People who support the community with their time and their money.  All involved in an effort to generate $3 million to renovate the decaying bowl.  Music lovers.  Givers.

Only $195 to attend the event.  Not a lot of money for Sweetie and me.  A small percentage of what we give during the year.  Surely we could participate, be a builder.

But I couldn’t get the image of that refrigerator out of my head.  Or of Chris who worries about becoming homeless.  Evelyn is one of twelve in a one-room apartment.  Marittsa cries while describing her mother’s struggle.  Roger says “It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you need.”   Sonya asks “Do people really care?”

$195.  Not much.  Wonder how many burritos it will buy.



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