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Judy Foreman: In Aftermath of Disasters, AHA! Moment Puts Focus on Rising Together: Published in Noo

Teenagers organize SBCC event to celebrate community resiliency while also creating a living painting of unity and healing

Teams of teenagers from AHA! have been volunteering with the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade to help Montecito recover from the deadly flash flooding and debris flows. Now the students are organizing a Rising Together project to celebrate community resiliency and healing. (Donnie Hedden photo /

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Teenagers with the nonprofit group AHA! have been helping the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade dig out Montecito, which was devastated in the deadly Jan. 9 flash flooding and debris flows.

Inspired to do more, a number of the youths decided to organize a community connection and resiliency event to help the healing and recovery. The project, called Rising Together, will be held April 21 at Santa Barbara City College’s West Campus. It is hosted by the SBCC Foundation and the Community Environmental Council.

The centerpiece of the day is a living sculpture made of people, which will be orchestrated by artist Daniel Dancer and photographed from above. More than 1,000 people — of all ages — are needed for the massive artwork of a white dove rising from the flames and mud.

Dancer, who has a master’s degree in child psychology, has devoted his professional life to working with children, often through team-building exercises and living paintings created through his Art from the Sky program.

The day’s musical guest is Rob Write, a Ventura recording artist whose recent single about the personal and community impacts of the recent wildfires and floods, “State of Emergency,” has been viewed online nearly 22,000 times.

On a recent afternoon, my friend, Susan Shand, invited me to meet a group of the AHA! students. AHA! — which stands for Attitude, Harmony and Achievement — serves some 3,000 teens, ages 13-19, through school, after-school and summer emotional support programs.

After being introduced to the group — which was interested in how I became a writer — students, facilitators and I sat in a circle and shared what the idea of Rising Together means.

I heard the youths’ goal was to inspire our community through inclusivity, and link arms with other support organizations to overcome the pain from recent natural disasters and other social-alienating behaviors. A vibrant discussion developed around the idea that, as a community, we are stronger together and have the ability to overcome any tragedy.

The teens in the group had diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, cliques and viewpoints, and they were encouraged by the facilitator, AHA! co-founder Jennifer Freed, to share with me why this event means so much to them.

“I don’t want anyone to feel alone because they are different,” Kate said.

Another student, Zoe, said, “I have been evacuated for over a month and had to leave my pets elsewhere. I have friends who have lost houses and loved ones.”

Said Evan: “I was bullied so much when I was younger that now I am still scared to be with my peers and say what is in my heart. That is why we are Rising Together.”

Started in 1999 ago by Freed and co-founder Rendy Freedman, AHA! has empowered more than 20,000 teenagers to stop bullying, create peaceful and socially equitable environments, communicate effectively, listen deeply, deal with strong emotions constructively, share vulnerabilities and express them creatively.

“Rising Together is an event to demonstrate with a human living art image photographed from the sky that we are one community with one purpose — to uplift and celebrate our differences and to stand together when we face hardship of any kind,” Freed told Noozhawk.

“This mission statement is a tall order for a climate filled with so much hate speech, sexism, racism and polarized viewpoints but I am inspired by our young people as the future is theirs.”

Rising Together will be held from 9 a.m. to noon April 21. There is an enrollment fee/donation of $5 and $20. Click here for more information.

All donations go toward AHA!’s educational programs for youths in need at local junior high and high schools, as well as AHA!’s trauma clinic serving youth and families in need.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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