Leaders In Training

The entire Youth & Government family, including San Pedro, Palos Verdes and Wilmington delegations.

It’s one of the largest delegations in the state, and out of the more than 2,500 students that participate, 120 of them hail from San Pedro High School.

These students, on their weekends, and each Tuesday for six months, are assigned or voted a role in the California government – from senator and assembly member to lawyer and lobbyist and governor – these delegates, as they are called, participate in arguably the most real life club schools have to offer.

The Youth and Government Program, put on by the YMCA, has been providing students the opportunity to participate in the various jobs of government since 1948.

The students, who for their final project take the capitol over for five days this month, do it all; from writing legislation and debating bills to learning public speaking skills, participating in character development activities, and maybe most important, getting involved in various community service projects.

Lauren Fierro, who spent three years as a volunteer with the program before she took over as lead advisor, says the development she sees in the students each year is “mind blowing.”

“I watch the students learn, change and grow into young, educated and passionate adults,” she says. “They realize they have a voice, and more importantly that their voice matters.”

Funded by the San Pedro YMCA and Peninsula YMCA, with help from donations from the community, the Youth and Government Program draws from six different high schools including Palos Verdes and Wilmington, with most students coming from San Pedro High. The delegates meet each Tuesday night at SPHS, and have more students involved that any other YMCA across the state.

In fact, last year’s delegation won the coveted Governor’s Challenge, for being the “most outstanding delegation both inside of the Youth and Government program and inside the community.”

The program across California draws from 90 different delegations, with over 2,500 participants. These students come together and work together three times a year to elect their own government – then participate in the big finale in February, when these elected officials put on their suits and ties and run the capitol building.

Fierro says the students fly into Sacramento on a Wednesday night, check into their hotel rooms, and prepare for the week. “They wake up in the morning, get dressed and go to work,” she says. “They are senators, congressmen, lobbyists and lawyers, and they are treated like adults.”

A senator, for instance, would enter the capitol building on Thursday morning and after a briefing from his staff, would head to the committee meeting and debate laws and legislation. Later in the day, there would be a luncheon or meeting with lobbyists who will argue for or against legislation.

Once the bills pass through the committees, the senator would take the bill to the senate floor and debate the legislations amongst the other senators. Once passed, the bill would move to the Governor’s office, who has his own staff and group of lobbyists and can sign or veto the bill.

YMCA adult volunteers (l to r): Eduardo Osorio, Will Terrazas, Anthony Dobay, Lauren Fierro, Paula Goldberg, Michelle De Anda, Erika Dolan, Sarah Esparza and Lauren Williams make quesadillas to raise money for the program’s scholarship fund

“This is absolutely fantastic,” says Fierro. “These kids run the government, they actually do it. There is a research room where they study and research for hours about the bills they are proposing or lobbying for or against. They can run a government, and in some cases run it better than our own government runs it.”

Dru Chavez, a 17 year-old senior at San Pedro High School, says the program has been life changing. Chavez has been involved for two years, and says until he joined Youth and Government he never felt a sense of satisfaction and was always wanting more.

“This is something special,” he says. “It is the place to be, and it has changed my life.”

This month, Chavez will serve as the statewide chaplain, and plans on inspiring his peers through several speeches and invocations. “I think I have one of the best jobs,” he says. “I can be informal and really have the opportunity to meet a lot of people. Last year, I was a senator and sponsored a bill to eliminate the California High School Exit Exam. It passed. I was able to debate on the senate floor, and actually won Senator of the Year – this program is just amazing, and has changed my future.”

Mo Johnson, 17, who ran for Secretary of State last year with plans on becoming the first female President of the United States in the future, says this program has changed the direction of her life.

The San Pedro senior will head to George Washington University in the fall and has already committed to a five-year masters degree program, in addition, to being a member of the row team.

“This is what I love, I found what I love,” she says. “This program helped me find my passion and I couldn’t be more grateful. I want to major in Political Science and eventually run for political office – I am open to anything, but I jokingly say often that I want to be the first female president.”

Johnson, who was elected to the Youth and Government Board of Directors, wants a life in politics and without this program may have never been exposed to it. At a recent conference, where all 2,500 plus delegates joined together in preparation for the Sacramento takeover, Johnson led a Women in Leadership session, as she noticed a discrepancy in the amount of elected women in the program.

She says that women make up 60 percent of the program, but only one in five are elected to high-level positions.

“I have a stake in this program,” she says. “This is my third year, and I have become very invested in not only the time that I have been involved, but the years after I leave. I have a totally different perspective – this is about our youth, our future, this program just floors me.”

Fierro says the program is a place where “we encourage teens to be themselves, step outside of their comfort zones, and appreciate differences in their fellow delegates.”

“It is an all inclusive program,” she continues. “It is a character and leadership focused program. It is not competitive, it is about treating teens like adults and letting them know their voice matters, their opinion matters and they can make a difference.” spt

Dressing To Impress Without The Stress

Chris and Alena Castillo with their two children, Tyler (right) and Krista (photo by John Mattera)

There’s a new spot in town where fashionistas can pick up designer threads and accessories for a steal: Finders Keepers Consignment Boutique.

Mannequins dressed to the nines line the shop windows on Western Avenue before Summerland, where owner Alena Castillo opened for business this July. In three months, she’s built an enthusiastic base of customers and consigners, followings on social media and has earned glowing reviews.

“I opened the store July 1 with 600 items, and now we have over 4,000,” says Castillo, a San Pedro native and casual longshoreman. After working her way up through management at Nordstrom and the Gap, the wife and mother of two realized her dream of opening a consignment shop in her hometown.

“I always knew I wanted to open up a store, and one day I was at a consignment store in Redondo Beach and I thought, ‘Gosh, San Pedro and Rancho Palos Verdes really needs something like this,” she says. “I really think this is something our town has needed for so long. I always had to drive out to the Galleria or Del Amo and now with gas prices, hopefully people can come here, and they’ll get a great deal too.”

With the business guidance from her uncle and help from her husband and high school sweetheart Chris, Castillo started planning, found a location, put out a call for items on Facebook, and made Finders Keepers a reality.

“It’s been so far, so good, every month it’s gotten better. It’s been all word of mouth,” Castillo says. “I already have regulars.”

Staying on top of trends gets expensive, and consigning offers a return on purchases that were investments, or nice items worn only once or twice. At Finders Keepers, consigners get 50 percent of the profit from their items, or 60 percent in store credit. Castillo says about half opt for store credit.

“We have over 150 consigners and every single item in the store is from somebody that lives in San Pedro or Rancho Palos Verdes,” she says. “So many people that used to consign at places in Redondo now come here because it’s more convenient and it’s closer.”

Castillo looks for quality, name brand and designer clothes, shoes and accessories that are new or gently used. The store carries mostly women and kids’ items, but does have a rolling rack of men’s clothes. She also has a plus size section.

“I would say we specialize in our denim and our dresses, the selection is killer,” Castillo says. If customers have specific requests, she’ll call them when one comes in.

For an idea of prices, designer jeans usually go for $50 or less. Recently, someone snagged a pair of brand-new Christian Louboutin shoes for $140. But if Alexander McQueens, Marc Jacobs handbags and True Religions aren’t your style, there’s an entire back room of items for $10 or less.

“I think people come here to find items that are somewhat trendy, but are a good basic,” Castillo says. Her selection offers versatility that works for all ages. When the store first opened, a 20-year-old came in and bought a jacket consigned by a 55-year-old woman.

“If you want something trendy you’ll go to Forever 21 and spend $10 on a top, but the items here are different because they’re name brand, so they’re better quality,” Castillo says. “Maybe they’re a brand or style someone wouldn’t usually buy, but because of the price, they’re more likely to try it on here.”

Once a month, Finders Keepers hosts an after-hours wine and cheese social usually coinciding with a sale. The store also carries handmade jewelry crafted by Lynn Links, a nearby resident battling cancer, for whom jewelry-making is cathartic. Her pieces, specializing in stone and shells, are very popular.

A first-time business owner herself, Castillo comes from a family of San Pedro retailers. Her grandparents owned the Kitchen Shop at Ports O’ Call Village in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“If I was to say thank you to anybody, it would definitely be my husband. He’s made this happen and he’s been my biggest fan. My mom has been very supportive and I have some friends that helped me open,” Castillo says. “For being open for three months, a lot of positive things have happened so far and it can only get better, I’m very optimistic.” spt

Finders Keepers Consignment Boutique is located at 29619 S. Western Ave in Rancho Palos Verdes. For more information, call (310)521-1969.

Remembering Tom Phillips

Artist Tom Phillips (right) with Mrs. Mary Thomas (left) widow of Assemblyman Vincent Thomas, photographed at the Arcade Building in historic downtown San Pedro beside the original painting of “The Cinematic Bridge,” commissioned by festival director Stephanie Mardesich for the key art for the first official poster for the L.A. Harbor International Film Festival (LAHIFF), April 2004. (photo courtesy of LAHIFF)

Tom Phillips was happiest in his studio, painting. He was considered a bit of an introvert, and his love of art seemed to overshadow most other areas of his life. But it was this mindset, and dedication, that put Phillips on the map – early and often.

Until May of this year, when Phillip’s life tragically ended due to post-surgical complications after a lung procedure, he could always be found creating something – he could always be found pushing the limits of his artistic ability.

“He was selectively reclusive, his world outside of painting consisted of a small group of high school friends, myself and our son,” says Laura Davidson, Phillip’s ex-wife. “But he was very in tune with what he wanted to do and when he wanted to do it.”

With strong roots in San Pedro, and a lineage that can be traced back four generations to Southern California, it is no wonder that in the final stages of Phillips’s career, as well as some of his beginning work, he focused on painting pictures of his beloved city.

“He was very proud of his family and where he came from,” Davidson says. It was this love, shared through art, that have made Phillips’s paintings so iconic in San Pedro. From the decorating of the walls of the San Pedro Brewing Co., to his painting of the “Cinematic Bridge” that became the poster image of the Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival, Phillips made is mark in San Pedro, and he made it through his painting.
After his passing in May, Davidson, their son, and Ron Sesco, owner of The Distinctive Edge Gallery, joined together to host a gallery in Phillips’s honor, to “cement recognition for his work.”

“Tom was one of San Pedro’s most renowned artists of the last 30 years and will be missed and remembered alongside the likes of Violet Parkhurst,” says Sesco. “Tom chronicled the essence of San Pedro history through his paintings of historical local buildings and landmarks that bring great memories of the past. His paintings also included farmland area of the Palos Verdes Hill where his great grandfather, Harry Phillips Sr., worked as a foreman on the Bixby Ranch in the early 20th century.”

“After his death, we found pieces he was working on and they were exciting,” Davidson says. “We were in awe.”
Upon deciding the date of October 27 for the show’s reception, Davidson, her son, and Sesco, whose gallery will host the event, are collectively deciding what works to feature. “This show is a celebration and recognition of his life. It’s for his clients to be able to come and view his work from beginning to end,” says Davidson. “It will be the fruits of his labor on the walls.”

Phillips, a native of San Pedro, was a man which life afforded many opportunities, who chose to live and die an artist in its truest form. His familial roots firmly planted in the ground of San Pedro, he kept this city forever close to his heart and made it an integral part of his work, says Davidson.

Phillips ex-wife speaks volumes on the life and work of her late husband. Their marriage ended amicably, resulting in one son. Davidson, who also has a background in art and a career in art galleries, says Phillips career took off almost immediately. “When his career first took off, it was at a furious pace. Everything he painted, he sold,” she remembers fondly. “He showed at the National Academy of Design in New York, two years in a row, on first submissions, which is unheard of. It’s an honor just to get in, let alone show work two years in a row, for a newcomer.”

When she saw his work at the beginning, she wondered why he wasn’t painting professionally – at this time he was pursuing a career in business law. This quickly changed, as Phillips followed his heart and dreams and was quickly rewarded with amazing opportunities. One of those opportunities came after an art show featuring three artists in the home of Sharon Disney.

“They wanted him to be part of WED Enterprises, doing illustrations and artwork, this was when EPCOT was being built at Disneyland,” Davidson says. “During his show in Sharon’s home, big wigs present, he was quickly offered a gig.” Although a tremendous career turn, Phillips declined in the interest of having sole responsibility of his work and his career. Davidson says that was one of many difficult decisions that paid off.

His career started booming, and around 1974, with Phillips selling paintings as fast as he could finish them, he was commissioned to do ranch pieces. Gene Autry even had a painting done by Phillips in his collection. Yet, even with such success, Davidson remembers these beginnings as humble. She says they were selling paintings out of their home, entertaining future buyers with “wine and cheese parties, and enjoying the rapid pace of life.”

A graduate of one of the best fine art schools in the United States – Art Center College of Design in Pasadena – Phillips knew that perfecting his technique, and always being open to learning new things was important to a life dedicated to art.

“His roots were always here,” says Davidson. “He loved San Pedro, and painting this city was always some of his best work.”

Now, as Davidson, their son, and Sesco, prepare to honor Phillips and his work one last time, they remember fondly the talent and drive he had.

“Picking the pieces to feature has been a real challenge,” explains Davidson. “We want the community, his clients, and those that never met him to have a chance to view the work that was his life. This gallery, this showing of his work, is the cement that will keep his name and his work in San Pedro forever.” spt

Tom Phillips (1948-2012) Exhibit & Sale Reception is Oct. 27, 5-8pm at The Distinctive Edge Picture Framing & Gallery (29050 S. Western Ave., Suite 113, Rancho Palos Verdes). Serious buyers & collectors, please call (310) 833-3613 for a preview and information.