Local High School Student Makes a Difference

Published : Thursday, July 19, 2018 | 7:35 PM

While most kids in high school spend spare time with their friends or enjoying the summer, one exemplary Pasadena teen has spent hers on helping others in the community and is now being recognized for her efforts.

Seventeen-year-old Emilia Peters is the co-founder of KEM Creative Studios, an organization which brings art to homeless shelters and underserved communities. She was recently announced as a recipient of the 2018 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. The $36,000 award recognizes teens for their commitment to social good and volunteer service. The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards have gifted more than $4 million to 114 Jewish teens who are tackling global issues and creating lasting change.

Peters spoke with Pasadena Now about the success of KEM Creative and what’s in store for the organization as the incoming senior at Sequoyah High School faces college.

How did you find out you won the award?

I received a phone call while I was at school. It was so exciting. I can’t even describe it. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was speechless, I couldn’t believe it.

Did you have any idea it was coming?

I’d had received a few letters of support in the mail. I received one when I was selected as a semi-finalist, and another when I was selected as a finalist.

So what will you do with it (the award money)?

I was given $36,000 to put toward college or to put toward the service project. I’m going to putting some of it toward KEM and some it toward my college education.

Give me a little bit of idea of what you do with KEM and how you expose the kids to art.

We go to homeless shelters, and we teach lessons—each of them incorporates three things. They incorporate some opportunity for self-reflection or self-expression; we also try to incorporate an art technique, and we try to expose students to new art methods, like acrylics, pastels or charcoal. In all our lessons we try to expose them to new materials they might not see.

We have two different ways that we bring KEM into shelters. We do weekend classes, which we started four years ago, and we now do summer camp as well. Last summer we did a five hour a day, two-week summer camp. This year, we’re bringing in Art Ambassadors, who are friends who come in and volunteer with the lessons independently.

How did KEM start?

As a bat mitzvah project. My partner Kyra Kraft and I were both looking to do a project that revolved around art, and her parents and my parents were business partners. That’s how we met. We never thought it would go on this long. We initially wanted to do a few lessons at a shelter, and we just fell in love with the experience.

And where have you taken KEM? Into what communities?

We started at two LA Family Housing facilities, one in North Hollywood and one in Boyle Heights, and at Alexandria House, which is a shelter for women and children in Koreatown.

Last summer, we applied for AFF, an organization that sends people abroad. They award full scholarships to travel abroad and implement service projects. They select one winner and runners-up who get to go and help the winner implement the project. Kyra and I we were runners-up. We got to teach some of our lessons in Guatemala in Spanish in a public school. It was incredible.

Are there Sequoyah projects that are similar to yours?

Sequoyah has a Social Innovation Program, which allows us to address an issue community and come up with a solution. You have to research and talk with stakeholders and implement it. My work in shelters really inspired my project with that program.

How so?

I focused on a lack of healthy food options and underserved LA communities, and I was inspired by the observations I made while I was teaching (art) lessons in communities. I saw that the surrounding neighborhoods didn’t have very many supermarkets. I often saw people eating processed food, which is more affordable in some communities who didn’t have access to many other options. My work in the shelters really inspired my work at Sequoyah.

Where do you see KEM going? What is your vision for its future?

Kyra and I know it’s going to be difficult to straddle KEM and program in and college, so we’ve been focusing on the Art Ambassador program. We have over 40 volunteers who come and help us and about 14 of those are Art Ambassadors. We’re now starting to have the Art Ambassadors teach independently, which is great because we’ll be able to broaden our reach in so many different ways and teach at more shelters.

Can anybody be an Art Ambassador or other kind of volunteer?

Yes! We’re hoping that people who enjoy taking on leadership responsibility and want to make a difference will do so.

You do not need to be an artist to volunteer with KEM Creative Studios—you just need a desire to help. If you’re interested, contact Emilia Peters at kemcreativestudios@gmail.com.










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