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My baby’s smile brings me joy

1st place $50

By Sabrina Orta, Azusa Cal-SAFE

Sabrina with her daughter, Serenity.

The one thing that brightens my day is my daughter, Serenity. There’s not a day that goes by that she can’t make me smile. Whenever I’m mad, stressed, upset or just feeling down, she’s always the first one who can clear my mind and make all my problems go away. I always wonder how something so tiny can make you the happiest person in the world. Every time I’m struggling in school and feel like I can’t do it anymore, I look in her eyes and my bad thoughts change. I get in the mindset that I can do it, I can do the impossible.

My little girl is tiny, smart, beautiful and the happiest baby I’ve ever known. It’s amazing how she knows just what to do when I’m not in a good mood. Even if she’s done something wrong and I’ve told her “No,” she does her little dance that makes me laugh when I should be mad.

My Serenity is the reason I’m finishing high school. Before I had her, school was a big struggle for me. I wasn’t getting the best grades and really didn’t have a great attitude. That attitude put college far out of my mind. As soon as Serenity came into this world, I knew I had to do whatever it took for my daughter to have a better life.

Despite the fact that I’m a teenage mother, I do have a good head on my shoulders. If it weren’t for my daughter, I can honestly say I would not be the person I am today. I would not be a straight-A student. I would not be graduating this June. I also would not be enrolled at Pasadena City College. Serenity is my everything, my blessing from God. I can see the future in my daughter’s eyes, what I am and who I’ll be.

Another way Serenity brightens my day is by the sound of her laughter when I tickle her. When she laughs, she makes the whole world smile. Whenever I am having a conversation with someone and I start laughing, sure enough, Serenity starts to laugh too. She is the only one who has the power to make me happy and bring me up when I’m down. I love to come home to her running toward me to give me a big hug, and how when it’s time for bed she plays with my ears to fall asleep.

She is my pride and joy and there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for this blessing. Ever since she was brought into my life, I’ve never been happier. Whenever my day needs to be brightened, she’s the one I turn to.


My brother’s notebook reminds me of him

2nd place $30

By Victoria Thompson, Pasadena City College

Every few days, when I’m feeling blue, I shuffle through my various multicolored notebooks to look for the one thing that will make me smile. “This is for you.” I can still hear my brother saying these words as he handed me his black and white Mead notebook. Well, the white is a dingy off-white now, and the corner on the left is peeling off, but I can still see his name—first, middle and last—in blue ink, the way he always proudly writes it.

I don’t even have to open the notebook to smile. I just remember that he—the brother I’ve been separated from by the foster care system—gave this to me and I am elated. I picture him, his toothy smile and that little dot on his face that we’re both not exactly sure what it is (it rises up on his cheek when he smiles). And when he smiles, it brightens my day. I might roll my eyes at him or tell him, “Stop laughing so much!” But underneath it all, I adore his smile.

Sometimes I get jealous of the other girls at my group home because they get to see their families and I don’t. But when I touch that Mead notebook, it’s like I can feel where my brother’s hands have been, like his aura has left an imprint on it.

On the inside of the book (where the real magic is), there is a letter that I wrote my brother. There is a drawing he did of giant people fighting monsters in the city and an airplane flying over them with a sun that has box-shaped glasses and buck teeth. He drew a roller coaster and wrote the lyrics for “21 Guns” by Green Day. My brother drew part of a football field with the UCLA bear, the USC Trojan, a referee and a Gatorade stand. My second-favorite drawing is an all-black pirate ship near an island with octopuses and sharks down below. Next is a cowboy with a giant head and an ear piercing.

After that there are my favorite drawings of all because they are the pictures that my brother dedicated to me. It’s Jack Skellington (from The Nightmare Before Christmas) in Halloween, Christmas, Cinco de Mayo, Easter, Independence Day and Thanksgiving costumes. I still remember the excited look on his face when he told me, “This is what I drew for you, Vikki! I know how you love Jack Skellington … so, what do you think?” And he nudged me with his shoulder a few times until I smiled so hard that I had to hug him.

I plan on giving my brother his notebook back once I get out of the system so that he can continue drawing, not only for me, but for himself as well. When he draws, he gets this look on his face that says, “Hey! You better not say a word to me right now, or else.” I just love his determination.

Looking at my brother’s black and white journal gives me hope that I will see him again one day and that we will be together. I will always keep my brother’s notebook, not only in my room, but also in my heart.


Little things mean a lot in jail

3rd place $20

By E. C., Central Juvenile Hall

There aren’t too many things that can really brighten my day where I am. The things that manage to make an impact on me are probably things people take for granted. After going through what I’ve been through, I’ve learned just how much the little things really mean.

Currently I’m in Central Juvenile Hall. The reasons are unimportant. It’s been about four months now that I have been away from my home in Pasadena. Four months since I’ve eaten real food, been in a car, seen my friends or walked down the street. Being in a place like this reminds me of all the simple joys that we sometimes overlook.

On the weekends I get to see my parents for a few hours. My dad comes on Saturdays and stays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., when visiting is over. Then on Sundays I see my mom from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. On any given week this is probably what can brighten me up the most. The familiar smell of Mom and Dad, the warmth and comfort of their hugs, even the way they talk is a reason for me to smile. Even though seeing my parents from inside here makes me sad, I try to appreciate the fact that they come. A lot of kids around me never get visits. It really has taught me how special my parents are.

I really hope that my essay can teach kids to appreciate what they have because it’s true, you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. Think about all the things we do on a day-to-day basis. Simple, mundane things. Imagine feeling such a terrible longing as wanting to wake up in your own bed. I just want kids my age to count their blessings because there are teens just like them who would trade anything to be in their shoes and they’re not the kids in third-world countries. They’re right here in Los Angeles.

Skating keeps me and my cousin connected

Honorable mention

By Orlando Alvarado, Fairfax HS

Every day I wake up and the first thing I see is my skateboard. I start smiling and thinking of how my cousin taught me how to skate. I was never really into skateboarding until my cousin, Erik, introduced it to me. He showed me everything I needed to know about skating and if it weren’t for him I would not be skating today.

We were inseparable and had been going to the same school since elementary school. When he moved to Georgia for high school, he left me his skateboard to remember him by. Every time I used the skateboard, I thought about him and smiled, motivated to beat him in skating one day. Instead of feeling down, I relieved my pain by skating every day. I kept getting more and more confident with my skating skills and then felt that I was able to beat him in skating.

I started saving money for a trip to Georgia. At first I thought it was going to be impossible, but my mother and brother knew how much I cared about my cousin, so they decided to chip in some money to send me there. The next Christmas I went to Georgia. I was extremely excited to see my cousin. I wondered if he had gotten better at skating. He knew I wanted to beat him at skating and he also wanted to beat me so we went to the skate park close by.

We started off playing rock-paper-scissors to see who would do the first move. I won. We both started landing incredible tricks we had never seen each other do before. We were smiling, surprised at how much better we had become. The game was coming to an end and the score was S-K-A-T to S-K-A-T. He landed tre flip, big flip, hard flip and front side flip. I had landed big spin, half cab heel flip, backside heel flip and double flip. It had come down to one last trick and I landed the most difficult trick, a fakie big flip. He messed up on the trick and I won. I could not believe I had defeated the person who inspired me to skate.

Before I left he gave me another skateboard to remember him by—his favorite skateboard. We hugged goodbye and I looked at the skateboard smiling, realizing how much I missed my cousin.

I still skate, smiling at my skateboards and remembering how I began skating. I will never forget him and hope to see him again.

My mother’s song lifts my spirits

Honorable mention

By Ha Young Kwen, Wilson HS (Hacienda Heights)

After a long day at school, I walk home with my heavy backpack. By the time I get home, I’m sweaty, sleepy and hungry. I throw my things on the couch and grab something to eat. I eat in silence as I mentally go over the list of homework from all my classes. I pass by the television and wish I could watch Ellen Degeneres, but I know my homework will take me the whole night. I grab my backpack and trudge up the stairs to my room, feeling defeated. I try to understand chemistry and fight off sleepiness at the same time. One part of me is stressed out and the other half is bored. I want something to uplift me.

Later at night, I hear the buzz of the garage door opening. And I wait for it—the sound of my mom singing, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hal-le-lu-jahhhhhh!” She is singing along with the worship CD she bought at church. Even though she sings off-key, it makes me excited that she’s here. I run down the stairs to greet my mom. We hug and I run back upstairs to do homework again. It is that brief moment with my mom when I’m the happiest during the day. I like that my mom is happy. Her energy flows down to me and I get a power boost to face my homework again.

Sometimes, I wonder how my mom can still be positive after coming back from work. Every weekday, she wakes up early in the morning to go to work and waits in traffic for an hour to get to downtown L.A. At a clothing factory, she works standing up for the whole day and draws patterns for clothes over and over. After work, she gets stuck in traffic for two hours on her way back home. When I compare my school life with her work life, I should not be the one to complain. At least I have some fun things to do at school, while one mistake at work can cost my mom her job. I appreciate that my mom has a positive attitude and lives her life with a joyous heart even though there may be difficulties. Seeing her smiley and jolly makes me feel good, too.

New essay contest

What was your scariest experience?

In this issue, Brian writes about how scary it was for him to give a speech in front of his English class. We want you to tell us about a time in your life when you were afraid. Maybe you moved and had to start over at a new school or maybe your neighborhood is dangerous and it’s scary to go outside of your house. Have you ever felt like everyone was counting on you and you didn’t want to let them down, or that you messed up and had to face the consequences of your action? What was your scariest experience and how did you get through it?

Write an essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it:

Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and phone number with your essay. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners.Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner will receive $20. Winning essays will be printed in our November – December issue and put on our website at

Mail your essay to:
L.A. Youth
5967 W. 3rd St. Suite 301
Los Angeles CA 90036
or to

DEADLINE: Friday, March 4, 2011