DEALS AND DISCOUNTS--As the saying goes, “it is better to give than receive.” However, it is even better to give and receive at the same time. This holiday season, give to your favorite charity and receive a tax deduction when you itemize expenses on Schedule A of your tax returns. Here is my newfound favorite charity, Journey Out

Dance for Freedom

Last month, I was lucky enough to participate in a fundraising event called DANCE FOR FREEDOM. A group of zumba lovers had an intense workout from three popular westside instructors and the proceeds were donated to JOURNEY OUT, a local non-profit that helps victims of sex trafficking and exploitation from the streets of Los Angeles. 

We had an opportunity to meet the director, Dr. Stephanie Powell who told us of her first-hand experience working with this population as a retired, 30-year LAPD vice sergeant working the downtown streets and JO’s current director. As a compassionate maternal-figure, she talks to victims in depth to find out their backstories and the common threads that led to this lifestyle. She spoke of the conditions why sex workers turn to the streets, being manipulated and coerced by pimps and traffickers, their need for attention and their willingness to work for the pimps’ love, and their lack of self worth. Every zumba dancer was deeply moved emotionally as we physically moved to the beat raising awareness, support and money. 

(Photo left: Dr. Stephanie Powell and the DANCE FOR FREEDOM Zumba instructors) 

Sex Trafficking in our Backyard

What I did not know is sex trafficking is rampant throughout the US, Los Angeles included, especially downtown and in the San Fernando Valley. Underage girls, age of 12-14 years old, are being lured through psychological manipulation, force or fraud by someone they trusted and later become their “pimp” or “john”. Sex trafficking includes all types of sex venues ranging from massage parlors, brothels, escort services, the streets and many the “dark corners” of the Internet. 

Here are just a few reports from 2016. The Los Angeles Times reported two LAPD busts on large crime rings rescuing 30 victims and arresting 350 perpetrators through Operation Reclaim in January 2016 and Operation Summer Rescue in August 2016. 

The Daily News reported young girls walking the streets of Van Nuys, Sun Valley and Panorama City day in and day out with large-scale brothels nearby last January. Just a few days ago reported a sex ring in the Western Avenue and Figueroa corridor that resulted in sentencing five LA pimps 11 to 21 years in state prison for turning teens into prostitutes. 

Journey Out

Journey Out, a 501c(3) organization, formally known as the Mary Magdalene Project, is based in Van Nuys has a big heart and a long history of service and success. They provide victims with the tools and support to be successful after leaving sex trafficking and rebuild their life. 

A recent success story that was just tweeted involved at 16 year-old girl, Ericka, who was kidnapped by a trafficker. While walking down a busy Van Nuys street, she was grabbed by the neck from behind and forced in his car. The pimp sex trafficked her for two weeks. He watched her day and night not to escape, and to get Ericka to sell herself for his gain, he burned her with cigarettes and used a stun gun. She felt desperate and hopeless until she was rescued by an LAPD Vice squad during a Vice operation targeting pimps and buyers. 

Ericka sat sobbing at the Journey Out office recounting her story of survival. She was comforted by a survivor-leader who knew all to well what Ericka was going through. JO helped Ericka with her immediate needs; food, clothing, took her for a medical exam and that night got her into a transitional living program in another city where she could be safe and continues to receive mentorship from JO. Today Ericka is safe and out of that abusive lifestyle. Very grateful for the help and support received, she would not be where she is without the assistance of JO. 

Journey Out programs include:

  • Survivor-led support groups and mentorship,
  • Case management and referrals,
  • Peer-to-peer support and counseling, therapy and crisis counseling,
  • HIV testing and education,
  • GED tutoring, and vocational referrals,
  • Basic needs provisions such as shelter, food, clothing, and hygiene products. 

So far this year in 2016, Journey Out has taken 322 individuals off the street, with the majority being women, a few male and transgender individuals. That is a 40% increase from 2015, which could be due to different factors such as a court referral diversion program and dismissal, or from rescue efforts from programs such as Journey Out. 

The topic of sex trafficking is disturbing. The silver lining is there are wonderful people in our community involved, and you can be too. You can make a year-end contribution, join our zumba group for future DANCE FOR FREEDOM fundraisers, volunteer at Journey Out, or attend a JO event. 

END OF YEAR CONTRIBUTION

If you have not make your end of year contributions yet, consider Journey Out. It will make your heart happy to know you are donating to a charity that does so much to help victims of sex crimes, and will make your pocketbook happy reducing your taxes. A win-win!

http://journeyout.org/donate   

OTHER OPPORTUNITIES AT JOURNEY OUT

There is an event coming up on Friday, March 24, 2017 at the Joan Palevsky Center for the Future of Los Angeles at 221 S. Figueroa Street (part of the California Community Foundation) where Journey Out is giving an award to LAPD Sheriff James McDonnell as a “Visionary of Freedom” for his work dealing in this sector. 

Get involved. Visit their website and Facebook page, receive their Twitter feeds, check it out! 

 

NEED TO KNOW

JOURNEY OUT

7136 Haskell Avenue, Suite 125

Van Nuys, CA 91406

Tel: 818-988-4970

info@journeyout.org 

www.journeyout.org 

https://twitter.com/journeyoutla 

 

Informational video played on KCET on April 18, 2016

https://vimeo.com/150702435 

 

(Sue Helmy has plenty of tricks up her sleeve. She is currently providing superb administrative services at a financial management firm in Century City. She is active in countless church and civic organizations and spends every minute she can spare dancing to the Zumba beat.)

-cw

DEALS & DISCOUNTS--I just finished six weeks of comedy education and finished with a stand up show at the Hollywood Improv. You heard it right – I said the Hollywood Improv. I did a stand up comedy routine at this well-known comedy house along with most of my classmates from Jonathan Solomon’s “School for Stand-Up.” 

You can do it too! Right now, registration is open for the next class. It’s offered through Santa Monica College Bundy campus and it is on offer for the incredibly low price of $99. 

What do you get for that, you might ask? Well, it turns out that you get a class that would normally set you back more than $400! 

I found out about the class when the instructor made the trek up the hill to the SAG-AFTRA Conservatory at AFI to present a workshop on his stand-up class. He told us actors that, at the very least, we would discover what our persona is if we took the class. It took me a couple of years, but I finally enrolled. 

I’m not going to lie. I struggled with the writing and performing. Still, Jonathan and all my classmates were so supportive and the space was open for creativity with no judgment. We had a gas. 

As destiny would have it, I had to miss a couple of classes due to unforeseen circumstances. Wouldn’t you know it? Those were the ones where they covered the persona stuff. Sigh. I guess I’ll never know who I really am - at least not this week. 

Never you mind. 

I got a lot more than I bargained for even though I didn’t even try to bargain. The class is heaps o’ fun the entire six weeks. The students came from diverse backgrounds actors, doctors, teachers, women and men from their twenties to sixties. 

Jonathan starts out deconstructing the joke. He’ll provide descriptions of the various types of jokes. You’ll get to watch tapes of famous and not so famous comedians in action. 

Then, you get to sit around and write jokes with your fellow comedians and try them out in class. The whole shebang ends with a graduation performance and you already know where mine was. You can invite your friends and family for a great evening of laughter. They can order drinks – but there is no minimum. They’ll have an all around great time while supporting you as a comedian. The ticket was only $12 for the grad show. I did stand up to a sold out crowd! 

Our fearless leader, Jonathan, comes with a lot of experience as a funny fella. He’s done it all. He’s been on HBO, David Letterman and Comedy Central. He was a writer on the show “Mad About You” and a gaggle of other comedy and variety shows. It’s obvious that Jonathan really cares about his students and puts a lot into making sure that everyone is supported in writing and performing their bits. 

He also exposed us to comedian culture. It’s pretty cool. He shared about how he learned with other comics, some of them whose names you know, as they would pitch their jokes to each other and help each other with creating the jokes. He made a point to say how he always encourages his students to approach another comic if they have something to contribute. This quote from him gives you a flavor of the experience: 

One of the first things I really found exceptional about being a stand-up was that, because every night you've got a bunch of comics standing before the very same audience trying to get laughs, there's something about that solitary position, and the shared experience of it, that breeds a bond, breeds an equality, among comics. 

After our big night, Jonathan made sure we all enjoyed what he said is the tradition of going to dinner after the show. It’s a lot like theater people do. I got to chat with my fellow comics and meet the guests they brought to the show. We all had a great time eating, drinking and talking about the night. 

My co-host Sue is planning on taking the class that starts in January. If you hurry, maybe you can get in too. The class fills up early and there is often a waiting list so plan ahead! Who knows, maybe I’ll see some of you at one of the open mics around town as we work on our routines. Maybe I’ll take that class again. Looks like the upcoming grads will have their show at the Comedy Store! 

Jonathan also teaches a class on writing funny and he does private consults. 

 

NEED TO KNOW: 

Here’s a link to sign up for stand up:

Sign up for Stand Up!  

Here’s a link to sign up for writing funny:

How to Write Funny!  

Here’s a link to Jonathan’s website:

SchoolforStandUp.Com 

 

(Jennifer Caldwell is a an actress and an active member of SAG-AFTRA, serving on several committees. She is a published author of short stories and news articles and is a featured contributor to CityWatch. Her column at www.RecessionCafe.wordpress.com is dishing up good deals, recipes and food for thought. Jennifer can be reached at recessioncafe@yahoo.com.  Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jennifercald - Twitter: @checkingthegate ... And her website: jenniferhcaldwell.com)  

-cw

DEALS & DISCOUNTS--Are you looking for a fun activity for your young set over the holiday weekend? Look no further than the Kidspace Museum in Pasadena a place where education, nature, exploration all comes together in one great experience. I recently jumped at the chance to take my adorable grandnieces peaking the interests of kids ages 2 and 5 years old, and mine too! Granted our visit was on a Tuesday early afternoon in November, with just a few school groups to share the museum, and a four wonderful hours of fun. 

The adventure began as we entered through a giant kaleidoscope tunnel touching every colorful tile that bubbles out and lights up like a plasma lamp. Out first exhibit hall was the Storyteller Studio where we played dress-up, had puppet shows, drew on the giant white board letting our imagination go wild. 

As we made our way to the Nature Exchange, there was an educator introducing Baldwin the ball python to school kids who learned snake facts and had a chance to touch him. We explored insects encased in acrylic, caterpillars, butterflies, millipedes, scorpions, tarantulas and grasshoppers with magnifying glass. In the reptile area, we meet Baldwin’s neighbors; two fire bellied toads, and a Russian tortoise. There are tables covered with pinecones, fossils, animal skeletons, and pelts of furs. A lot to see and touch. 

Starvation was calling us. We found kid and adult friendly food at the café feasting from a great selection of hamburgers, chicken tenders, tuna sandwiches and fries. There was plenty of seating in the shade. 

After being re-energized, time to venture to the outdoor Physics Forest. Here we experimented with simple pulleys, levers, magnetism, gravity and other wonders of physics. The girls and I won a tug of war against a kindergarten class from a local school; we shot ping-pong balls in a cage, built a giant roller coaster, launched rockets, and raced pulleys on a track. Physics was never so fun.

There is so much more to do, but we ran out of time. One of the biggest attractions is the Water Play area. It is a low creek surrounded by boulders and an overhanging bridge that periodically fills with rainfall while kids learn the valuable lesson of water conservation. 

Besides the exhibits, there are daily art workshops, weekends parenting classes, tours, tricycle race course, fountains, mud and sand area, and special events like a semi-annual butterfly release, petting zoo around Labor Day, Pumpkin Festival in the Fall, and live performances at the amphitheater specifically designed for ages 2 -10.  You can even host a birthday party/group gathering. 

One of the nicest features throughout is a wonderful staff of educators who are very familiar with this age group. They engage kids in learning through investigation, experimentation and creativity, and also help them safe in the process. Our favorite was Erin the educator on the Nature Exchange who answered a barrage of questions and entertained wild thoughts about the reptiles having a party after the museum closes each night. Kudos to Erin! 

Kidspace has been around for 35 years. It started off in the basement of Cal Tech, and has grown into the 2.2 acres on the Arroyo Seco parkland with the efforts of educators from NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, the Art Center College of Design UNOCAL and the Pasadena Unified School District. Here they are with an ever adapting and improving space to enjoy with kids of all ages. 

The regular admission cost for 2 years old and up is $13. There are discount promotions using coupons on first5la.org, or an AAA or KCET membership. Tuesday Nights are FREE Family Night, from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm. A three-month family membership costs $79 for four people and they offer other membership packages that you might want to check out. 

Regardless of cost, there is enough to do for several visits, and it is museum worth supporting. I just need my little ones to come back to Los Angeles so that we can visit the Kidspace Museum again soon, still so much more to do.

_____________________________________________________________________

 

NEED TO KNOW:

KIDSPACE CHILDREN MUSEUM (near the Rose Bowl)

480 N Arroyo Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91103

(626) 449-9144

http://www.kidspacemuseum.org/

https://www.facebook.com/KidspaceChildrensMuseum/

https://twitter.com/KidspaceMuseum?lang=en

 

HOURS:

            MONDAY        Closed during Fall and Winter

            TUESDAY       9:30 am – 5:00 pm, Free Family Night 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm

            WEDNESDAY  9:30 am – 5:00 pm

            THURSDAY     9:30 am – 5:00 pm

            FRIDAY         9:30 am – 5:00 pm

            SATURDAY    10:00 am – 5:00 pm, CHECK OUT LOCAL EVENT SCHEDULE

            SUNDAY       10:00 am – 5:00 pm, CHECK OUT LOCAL EVENT SCHEDULE 

ADMISSION:

$13 (ages 2 and up)

Family Memberships:      $79 for (3 month membership)

                                    $119 (6 months membership) 

PARKING:

Free 

IMPORTANT NOTES:

  • There can be multiple school groups on a particular day, check in advance to plan accordingly
  • Closures on days of football games at the Rose Bowl
  • Some Holidays and Mondays are closed. Please consult the website
  • Parking can be challenging on particular days: Rose Bowl float viewing days, flea market Sunday’s, check it out
  • Adjacent to the museum and the parking lot is a lovely park with play structure, Brookside Park.

(Sue Helmy has plenty of tricks up her sleeve. She is currently providing superb administrative services at a financial management firm in Century City. She is active in countless church and civic organizations and spends every minute she can spare dancing to the Zumba beat.)

-cw

DEALS AND DISCOUNTS--After visiting The Halal Guys street cart at the original corner of 53rd and 6th Avenue in Manhattan last week, I was excited to lunch at The Halal Guys’ new Koreatown restaurant. 

I got the combo plate: gyros beef (not lamb) sliced off the spit spiced to perfection, minced chicken, turmeric rice, salad, pita bread. What a great value for $9.95 and enough leftovers to bring home to feed my family dinner. I loved the beef gyro so much that I bought a small container of just the meat for $3.95, to be sure to have enough. 

The menu is limited to a few Mediterranean specialties: beef, chicken, falafel as a large for $10 or small platter for $9, or as a wrap. You can either have it with a simple iceberg salad or tabouli. As far as sauces, there’s tahini, their proprietary “white sauce” (mayonnaise, vinegar and dill), babaganoush or very spicy hot sauce, and only one dessert, baklava. What else? 

This place is super convenient. It is opened until 4 am, 7 days a week. You can order online and pick it up; and if that doesn’t work for you, they also deliver. What a great convenience.

Situated on the corner of a strip mall at Wilshire and Mariposa, street parking is abundant even at lunchtime. 

This may sound like a fast food franchise with a Mediterranean flair. But after experiencing the NY scene of the original food cart, the excitement of people standing in line in the cold nippy air, being handed a warm platter of delicious street food, and knowing how this place got its start, it means a lot more to me. 

It all began in 1990, when three Egyptian taxi drivers were not finding halal food for themselves after a long night of driving. Not finding a hot dog to be a satisfying meal, they converted a hot dog stand into a vertical gyros spit, and started cooking halal meat and chicken, serving it over a bed or rice with a homemade white sauce. Their success was wild. After all, where else can you get a warm hearty meal for the same cost as a cup of coffee. Rumor has it there have been people to stand in line for over two hours. 

After 25 years at the food business, The Halal Guys have four prime NYC street cart locations and franchised 200 restaurants in States, Canada, and Asia. If you were to check them out on Yelp, the original location has 8,300 reviews averaging 4 ½ stars. Imagine that, for a street cart to get almost 10K reviews! The most yelped about restaurant ever. 

The question is what has made them so popular?

First and foremost, the food is delicious, for a street cart or as a restaurant. 

Second, there is a market for halal food. Halal means the meat was prepared with the blessings of a Muslim butcher, and the slaughter was done in a ritualistic humane way to the animal with the intention of being eaten. For most of us, it is a good thing since we know that the meat is held to a “higher standard” and most likely costs more than regular meat. For an observant Muslim, it is a great thing making it permissible to eat it. There are copycat food carts that also offer halal food such as the “NY’s Best Halal Food” who park very close with the same yellow and red umbrellas. So be careful and make sure you go to The Halal Guys. 

Third, people like trying food from other countries. In NYC, there are food trucks from every ethnicity such as, Greek souvlaki trucks, Jewish Kosher deli trucks, Italian pizza trucks, Sushi trucks, etc. Middle Eastern food is no exception. 

The Halal Guys offers homelike food, warm and delicious at a great price in NYC, in Los Angeles, and soon almost everywhere else. 

NEED TO KNOW:  

THE HALAL GUYS 

Koreatown Restaurant

3432 Wilshire Blvd. (near Mariposa Street)

Los Angeles, CA 90010 

Other So Cal locations in Cosa Mesa and Long Beach 

Original Street Corner Location in Manhattan

Corner of W. 53rd and 6th Avenue

New York, NY 10019

 

(Sue Helmy has plenty of tricks up her sleeve. She is currently providing superb administrative services at a financial management firm in Century City. She is active in countless church and civic organizations and spends every minute she can spare dancing to the Zumba beat.)

-cw

More Articles ...