There are numerous moments of your child’s life - from birth to the present - that will testify as euphoric milestones – first cry – first steps – first shoes – first pet – first loss of pet - first love – first car – first defining situations that make one reflect back as a parent and think – “Wow… my choice to enrich another has redefined my perception of life.” My road has been long – lonely yet filled with surprises and one that made me proud was witnessing the difference my son – Dylan Bocanegra - is making by teaching art to the homeless and what they are teaching him.
Dylan began writing on walls of the tiny apartments we’ve lived in and as his love of art grew my patience in repainting walls became wiping a slate to make room for more memories. At Studio City's Carpenter Avenue Elementary School - young Dylan used drawing as a way to cope or pass the time in class. In Middle School at Millikan in Sherman Oaks he hit his stride with an art teacher who prepared him to audition for LACHSA – Los Angeles High School for the Arts.
By the end of his senior year Dylan had come up with the idea to merge the Indiana Jones series into one 6 ½ by 6 ½ foot mural that hangs at Atlantic Aviation’s Pilot Terminal in Santa Monica. His best friend – Duncan Valore helped him with it in the over 6 week process. The two have been best friends since they met at Millikan.
Gettlove – a non-profit organization to help the homeless - started by a woman Dylan met and loves very much - Aileen Getty - began at Blessed Sacrament in the heart of Hollywood - over 4 years ago. There Dylan learned to help feed hundreds of homeless men and women warm meals a day between breakfast and lunch - when he wasn’t in school at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
Dylan has worked hard to be accepted to the schools he felt would teach him the most and it has never been easy. Dylan comes from a one parent household and a parent who made it her job to ensure he had a childhood because she knew what it was to live without one. His artwork has been gifted to numerous local charities to raise monies for the homeless – cancer awareness and the PAL - Police Activities League - for wayward kids.
Bocanegra met Spencer Downing, Director of Programs and Operations, before Gettlove found a new home nearby. The two discussed starting an art group that is vital to their mission and gives people a chance for both self-expression and mutual appreciation. They currently offer about 30 different types of groups and activities among the 125 regulars that come to this low barrier center – one which doesn’t require more than a name and even that doesn’t have to be legal. A non-religious organization that bases its success on treating each other with respect. A simple and successful concept.
Spencer says: “The Center at Blessed Sacrament is a place for activity, engagement, and relationship. We are explicitly devoted to creating possibilities for community to develop. As we see it, one of the worst effects of homelessness is a sense of isolation that develops as people live on the streets. We seek to aid in people's recovery from those effects by creating spaces for interaction and relationship. Our core mission aims at two major populations--currently homeless people and recently-housed people. It is as important for us that we support people who have moved off the street as it is that we support people currently living on the street.”
Dylan recalls Chicken Soup for the Soul as being one of the top books in his elementary and middle school days. He relays, “People tend to forget that instead of reading about inspirational/motivational stories you can make your own. I grew up watching movies and television and I have always wanted to make an impact or leave a mark in the entertainment industry - to change how people think about things. Now, however, I realized how immature the thought was of 'having to wait to become a heavy hitter' or 'to work in the entertainment industry before I could make an impact' on the lives of others.”
Bocanegra – a junior now at Art Center – continues, “I've never really been the type to wait for the ‘right time’ or ‘moment’. I usually try to find a way to just do it. I think that's something many people really neglect. While I understand the virtues of being patient, if there is something you can do to expedite the process and still get the best results, well that's the route I usually like to take.”
This work has given him a different outlook on living – “I feel very empowered and lucky to have met Spencer, and for the opportunity they have allowed me to embark on over at Blessed Sacrament for over half a year now. I think the only thing that really keeps me going is knowing I'm really not that far from coming up on misfortune and being homeless myself, especially with the rising costs of Art Center and the stories I hear of being on top then hitting bottom."
Dylan tilts his head - “I think by being able to swim so close to rock bottom, where too many people come from, it gives you a reality check that the only difference between me and the guy who I'm teaching is that he's on the boulevard, and I'm cramped into a small apartment. Then the cliché hits you over the head: I'm the one getting the deal out of this, I get to learn from James, Ed, Jose, every Friday for an hour as well - the only difference is that I'm teaching them about art and expression in giving them a voice, and they are teaching me about LIFE.”
“Nevertheless, I'm not looking to actually become some sort of inspiration, but hopefully more of a guide as to what you can do to give back in some sort of service to your fellow man.” Bocanegra - smiles.
“I look forward to opening another class we plan on having a 2-3 hour period, instead of just 1 hour to do some mural work along Blessed Sacrament walls!”
From the walls of a tiny apartment to the walls inside the center next to a church – maybe that little person who you think is causing destruction just perceives the world differently. Sit with your child/teen/adult – see through their eyes for a few moments out of your busy day - scope a different viewpoint.
Fun - a tall black man told me that the class is all about what's in his mind and to express how he wants to see things. The group agreed as each expresses their own visual process.
Dylan's art site is: www.dtbsketchbook.blogspot.com