Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Unusual Suspects is a nonprofit organization of professional artists in Los Angeles that works with young people, ages 12-21, in the area's foster-care and juvenile-justice systems.

They provide 6-12-week youth performance workshops, during which volunteers help underserved kids from foster care and the juvenile justice system write and perform an original play.

These programs are provided for group homes, juvenile halls, gang intervention programs and youth residing in foster care.

Because the Los Angeles County Arts Commission approved the Unusual Suspects' curriculum and agreed that it meets the state's education standards for the visual and performing arts, participants in juvenile dentention facilities can receive community-service credit to reduce their probation time.

The Unusual Suspects also has an ever-expanding alumni program of young people mentoring one another and coaching each other’s transition back into the community.


- "There are no gangs up here on this stage. We're a family. We've done some things we regret, and we have to stop killing each other."Youth performer from the group’s first show at Central Juvenile Hall.

- "I was locked up in a juvenile-camp facility. The Unusual Suspects came to the camp and did a presentation. It was an improv, and I thought it was funny. I like humor. I was interested." - 17-year-old former resident of the Los Angeles County Probation Department's Camp Gonzalez, in Calabasas, California.

- "My high school did not have an arts program -- there was no theater, no space to dance, and no place to really write."Alumna of the program.

- "A lot of the kids are shy, or some have a little chip on shoulder, for whatever reason. They don't know what to expect. What's great is seeing them come in with an attitude of 'I don't know why I'm here, and I don't care,' and then take on the responsibility of a whole show they wrote. It transforms them into leaders." – Richard Morgan, alumnus of the program who now works as paid program coordinator for the nonprofit organization.

Not only does this program support academic skills, such as literacy, theater education and public speaking, it increases social consciousness as well. Anger management skills are learned during the program. Youth participants who come from different races and gang affiliations must cooperate with one another in order for performances to be a success.

Racial tensions were the catalyst for the group's creation according to its founder, actress Laura Leigh Hughes. "It came out of the riots in Los Angeles in 1992. I wanted to try to do something about racial tension and racial intolerance. I've always felt that youths were affected the most by these issues, and I wanted to find a way to empower them and give them a voice."

The Unusual Suspects are currently seeking volunteers for upcoming youth performance workshops in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. All volunteers must attend an orientation and undergo a background check.

For more information, please visit:

Baedeker, Rob. There are no ganges up here on this stage: A Los Angeles theater group helps kids in the juvenile-justice and foster care create dramas of their own design.

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Sure wish I still lived in California!

Just checking in: how are things going? I have good news, my sister Shannon is going to sign herself out on Aug. 22 when she turns 18 and move in with us; she will attend college here and work. I am so excited! SUCH an answer to prayer! She has even said that she will come to church with us. To God be all the glory!<3

That is so FABULOUS!!!

I am so happy to hear the great news about your sister,

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