Feast of San Gennaro: A Community of Concern Comes Together to Get Kids of L.A. Streets

L.A. Feast of San Gennaro offered pizza from Rocco's, gelato from Il Cono and Italian style sandwiches to festival goers

The Feast of San Gennaro, celebrated in America for the first time on the streets of New York City’s Little Italy in 1926, found its way to Hollywood six years ago. The festival, which featured four days of Italian food, music, rides and games, attracted over 100,000 guests during its busiest days, all in the name of charity. Visitors were greeted by booths seemingly of the standard carnival fare, with chances to win everything from goldfish to dinners out on the town. However, upon closer inspection, something was distinctly different about the men and women ‘carnies’ running the affair. With beaming smiles, the volunteer carnies handed out fliers and informational brochures along with the door prizes. Many of the people standing behind the booths, were only posing as carnies for the evening, and in fact, are representatives of what one referred to as ‘a community of care’ for homeless and neglected children in Los Angeles.

Guests danced to Lena Prima classics while enjoying the feast

For all its festivities, the Feast of San Gennaro, is one of the largest fundraising events of the year which seeks to "help our local community through fundraising and service," emphasizing support of Catholic programs. The first night of the program, "Prima Notte," hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla, was a high profile event at $100 at ticket, featuring live music by Franky Valli and a live auction to support Kimmel’s foundation. However, the following three days was a free-for- all public event, taking up the better part of the corner of Highland and Sunset Blvd. with gelato from the likes of Il Cono and huge, fresh made pizza pies from Rocco’s Pizza.

The feast, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla, was sponsored this year by Precious Cheese

However, set to a background of Lena Prima vocals, featuring upbeat renditions of classic Italian- American favorites, was the feature, local L.A. charities raising awareness, funds and volunteer bases for what Brian O’Connor, a therapist with Aviva Family and Children’s Services, refers to as a ‘community of concern."

 


Aviva which started in 1915 with the donation of the Hamburger Home, a house for troubled girls, has taken on providing mental health services, schooling, foster homes and hopes to begin a program focused on new mothers and infants. The program works mostly through referrals by the Department of Child and Family Services, and has a reputation for taking girls who have failed every other program, due to behavioral issues, and making them into successful and assured college graduates.

Oasis, a network for L.A. youth, provides after school programs and job fairs for the community

However, Aviva is not the only program notorious for turning young lives around. Oasis, a 28 year old non-profit, has made a vow to "change the next generation, one kid at a time," according to Ron Radachy, affectionately referred to as Papa Ron by many of the children Oasis supports. The program, which sees 200- 300 kids per week, provides door-to-door service to ensure that children get home safely after school. However, as Radachy put it, "We’re about the whole kid." Radachy noted that almost none of the children in the program have both parents in the household, and thus, many of the children are without stable role models. He thus focuses as much on the children receiving an education, as their discovering a vocation.

Aviva and Oasis provide literacy programs through volunteer mentors

Radachy even goes so far as to organize inspirational field trips and job fairs as a means of showing the kids the steps they need to take toward gaining a career of their choice. He cited a particular example of taking a group of young men to an animation studio. When asked how the animators got started, many replied that they just wanted to ‘doodle’ in high school, and now make over $80,000 per year. Papa Ron interjected, "you’ll never make that working at Taco Bell," you’ve got to graduate first.

Perhaps one of the inspirational programs present at the festival was the Los Angeles Youth Network. Director of Development, Ryan Plaisance, informed me that this program works directly with the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, which directly help some of the estimated 12,000 homeless youth living on the streets of L.A.

The street outreach program donates snack packs and jackets to homeless teens as a means of building relationships strong enough to bring the kids in off the streets and into their transitional living program. "When our kids are in college, they call us to come fix their cars," stated Ryan, referring to the parental role of the program. Well, LAYN must be doing something right, they have an 80% success rate for keeping those take in off of the streets for good. When asked the secret of their success, Plaisance concluded, "Our kids aren’t going to have to worry about dying at 18 any more. They can start planning for a future."

To gain more information, or to find out how you can contribute to any of the organizations hosted by the Feast of San Gennaro please follow these links:

Feast of San Gennaro

Aviva

Oasis

Los Angeles Youth Network

Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority

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