WE ARE FAMILY
Community and connection are at the heart of POPS the Club. The first connection is to anyone and everyone who is a member of POPS, including students, volunteers, teachers, counselors, and other school personnel. Everyone who walks into the room immediately senses the warmth, and boundaries outside the room immediately dissolve.
POPS clubs frequently invite visitors, sometimes as mere observers, or as guest speakers, including politicians, social workers, psychologists, the formerly incarcerated and adult children of incarcerated individuals, teaching artists, scholars, business leaders, and activists. POPS also creates a connection to the entire school and the broader community. In this way, the POPS family widens, broadens, and grows stronger.
At POPS people get it. They understand the hardship that is just part of everyday life with an incarcerated parent. And that makes it easier to be yourself.
POPS saved my life … if it was not for POPS and the staff, I would not be in college now. I would not be on the right path. POPS needs to be in every school.
WE ARE RESILIENT
With mindfulness exercises, POPS members discover passion and agency in unexpected places, like the day Casey Velasquez led a mindful eating exercise, and the whole room fell silent until someone called across the room, “I’ve never tasted a potato like this …” Each POPS club has a different origin story, but often self-empowerment begins even before the first meeting takes place, as it was prior to the launch at Lawndale High in southern California.
A junior from Lawndale High School was taking a summer writing course at UCLA when the teacher introduced her to the first POPS anthology, Runaway Thoughts, that had just been published. When this young girl read about the existence of POPS, she couldn’t believe her eyes. “How do I get this at my school?” she asked the teacher. He directed her to reach out to Amy. With a maturity far beyond her 15 years, she sent Amy an email and explained that her father was incarcerated and had been gone since she was a little girl. She wanted to bring POPS to her school for kids like her. In fact, she selected the first club sponsor at Lawndale High, Michelle Lee who continues to lead the club, now in partnership with two colleagues, Reza Mir and Tuan Hophan. That happens at clubs–more and more students become involved, and so do teachers, and counselors, and administrators and other personnel, so one brave young girl taking one action changed the culture of her school, and made it just a little easier for other kids to feel and be supported.
WE ARE CREATIVE
POPS the Club’s creative output in books, paintings, drawings, films, and online publications, often leaves people with the impression that POPS is just an “art club” or a “writing club.” At POPS, we encourage self-expression, although no club member is required to make art. And not everyone who walks through the door longs to paint, make films, dance, or write a poem. Many kids are just like Daniel Ortiz, who says, “To be honest, I just came for the food when I first came.”
And POPS knows the far-reaching impact of a good meal. Although the aroma of lunch lured him through the door, the most crucial moment was when one of the volunteers handed him a plate of food, smiled, and said, “Welcome to POPS.” Daniel still talks about how he felt at that moment; he didn’t feel judged. “I was not crashing some private event,” he said, “I felt welcome!” And Daniel was not impressed by that feeling of being welcome. Eventually, he became impressed with himself. Before joining POPS, Daniel, a sophomore who barely attended school in those days, was gang-affiliated and had just lost his dearest friend to a drive-by shooting. At POPS, he began to write and share his powerful poetry with his fellow students. As he did, his feelings became more apparent to him, and as he worked on his writing, his confidence grew. That growth was still more profound when he was first published, and he performed at the LA Times Literary Festival, and strangers applauded him. He began to sever his gang ties and says, “I stopped caring what they thought when I became an artist. I have other plans now.”
WHAT IF YOUR PROGRAM WAS NEVER CREATED? Would my sister still carry that hate? Would my sister be in a cell just like me? Would my sister still have gone to college? This POPS Program has saved A LOT of broken hearts. I can’t sit here and thank you both enough…Both my little sisters and I thank God every day for guiding my sisters into your program. THANX.