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Local non-profit with a global reach

By Simon Wong / Images courtesy of Ron Cariño

HAYWARD, Calif. -- Soulciety’s Executive Director Ron Cariño and Program Director Aaron Horner have known each other since Grade 7 and have undertaken community work since graduating from Mt. Eden High School, 15 years ago. The two-year old organization has grown rapidly and attracted a loyal following. Soulciety has a growing list of sponsors and strategic partners, many of whom approached the non-profit without being wooed, and caught the eye of additional corporate sponsors at its First Annual Fundraiser in early October 2010.

In August, Soulciety was presented with awards from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for their work to improve the lives of youth in Hayward, the Bay Area and in the Philippines. In mid-October, the University of Phoenix honored Horner with the 2010 Community Service Award.

Soulciety aims to “uplift the spirit of individuals and society as a whole through enrichment and empowerment of the lives of youth, young adults and other members of society and to promote physical, mental and emotional growth and well-being. This is done by helping them develop and realize their creative and leadership potential.”

The organization has several programs that reach out to the young.

The Bridge is an overseas education mission program which, so far, has visited the Philippines. Staff, volunteers and associates have taken computers, books, school supplies, food, clothes, personal hygiene and medical supplies and taught locals the importance of health. Despite the beauty of the village they visited in Pampanga, abject poverty means little education and a poor understanding of health issues. Mentors delivered creative arts workshops including break-dancing, hip-hop and poetry, and sports workshops, such as basketball and baseball, to augment the educational experience. The Bridge will return to the Philippines in January 2011with around 24 volunteers and mentors ranging from dancers, musicians, photographers, videographers, sports coaches, artists and computer technicians to teach and empower local youth in impoverished areas. There are plans to roll out the program to South America within the next few years. Contact Ron Cariño at ronnie@soulciety.org for more information.

The Early Sunrise Program nurtures child development and builds and strengthens child-parent relationships. The program, based at Calvary Baptist Church, Hayward, serves low-income families with youngsters aged 3-4 years. Parents learn about childhood development and are encouraged to engage with their children through activities such as reading. This also fosters literacy and helps prepare a child for school. Art also develops literacy and reading, music, dance, creative arts and cultural performances imbue families with an appreciation of different cultures. Positive representations of one’s own culture reinforce self-esteem. To learn more about, or to register for, Early Sunrise, contact Cathy Horner at cathy@soulciety.org (English) or Mariana Aguilar (Español) at mariana_aguilar510@yahoo.com

Live Soul Sessions is the only creative arts and leadership after-school program in Hayward. It provides a safe environment in which youth can engage in positive activities that interest them. They are taught how to maintain health through diet, nutrition and dance, the importance of involvement and the leadership skills necessary for effective service to the community. Many working parents are absent after school and numerous arts programs have been lost to budget cuts. The opportunity to learn how to break-dance, beat-box… with the likes of RJ Kool Raul Navalta is unique. The Program reduces the likelihood of youth gravitating towards negative, anti-social behavior, or worse. To find out more, contact Aaron Horner at aaron@soulciety.org.

The creative arts are used to raise the young’s awareness of the hazards of tobacco through Smoke & Ashes (formerly Project 4A Change). Education includes the tobacco industry’s marketing to youth, chemicals in tobacco, how they affect the human body, tobacco-related death, how to manage peer pressure to smoke and second-hand smoking.

Smoke & Ashes was founded in 2003 and has reached 20,000 middle school students in San Mateo and Alameda counties, combining education with dance, poetry and music. It takes breath to dance, recite poetry, sing and to live.

The American Lung Association, Alameda County Tobacco Control Coalition, San Mateo County Human Services Agency AOD TPP and Diablo Valley Kaiser have provided funding for Smoke & Ashes. For more information, contact Ron Cariño at ronnie@soulciety.org.

Soulciety stages Empower, a annual performing arts spectacular. The funds raised benefit local youth and the young in the Philippines.

Empower III: Under the Big Top, which “featured dance, poetry, music, with a creative twist of circus arts, all wrapped in a powerful storyline and message of self-actualization and purpose,” played to a full house on November 6 and 7 at Chabot College Performing Arts Center, Hayward.

The circus’ Ring Master (played by breakdancer RJ Navalta), transforms from a bitter individual to someone who awakens to the love around him and to Ariane (played by Ariane Padaong, a modern dancer) who sees him for who he is.

The message is loud and clear. Most only see others’ exterior and sense the ire of those suffering from emotional angst within. The angry and bitter have yet to put aside their demons; those around them are unaware of the depth of the emotional wounds inflicted by past experiences, real and imagined.

Learning is a life-long process. As people age, they reappraise their mental framework of experiences, beliefs, hopes and aspirations. At times, it takes a concerted effort to jettison prejudices, bigotry and firmly entrenched views of the world. A more peaceful individual, able to form better relationships, emerges.

Those unsure of themselves modify their behavior to “suit” each of the groups with which they have contact to create a sense of inclusion. Such activity is typical of the young who have yet to establish their own identity.

Ultimately, when searching for love, it is often right in front of us.

“We’re proudest of Empower III: Under the Big Top. It’s perhaps our most ambitious production so far. The event’s success would have been impossible without the hard work, professionalism and dedication of the performers, volunteers and everyone involved,” said Cariño. “We’d like to take the show on the road.”

“In the past two years, Hayward high schools have drastically cut the art, band and choir programs and there is only a vestige of business and technology programs leaving little to occupy youth,” Cariño continued. “Studies have shown that creativity is as important as arithmetic and literature. The ability to solve problems and express themselves creatively is essential. The young are our future. This is true of every generation. We must think carefully about how to prepare them to become managers and leaders who will bring about positive change successfully for our communities. Soulciety provides resources and guidance to facilitate that process.”

Making the effort to engage young people is the key to Soulciety’s success. Simply lecturing, advising or dispensing pearls of wisdom has its limitations. The non-profit’s staff, volunteers and mentors are young, or young-at-heart, and many hail from contemporary, popular culture about which youth is passionate. Catching and holding their attention with entertainment that appeals and using it to deliver a positive message has proven highly effective.

Individuals and organizations interested in sponsoring or partnering with Soulciety should contact Executive Director Ron Cariño at ronnie@soulciety.org. For more information, volunteer opportunities, to donate or register for programs, visit www.Soulciety.org.



Soulciety’s Empower III: Under the Big Top


Soulciety’s Empower III: Under the Big Top


Soulciety’s Empower III: Under the Big Top


Soulciety’s Empower III: Under the Big Top


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