WHO WE ARE
Arts for a Better Tomorrow (ABT) is a transborder nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that has undertaken the challenge to positively impact the lives of underprivileged youth. Founded by award-winning actor and humanitarian José Yenque, ABT harnesses the transformational and healing powers of the arts to effect real change in these young people’s lives and offer them positive paths toward their future.
Professionals from a diverse array of disciplines—including artists, social scientists, mental health specialists, university faculty—worked jointly to develop ABT’s curriculum. A group of skilled artists, educators, and university student interns from the United States and Mexico help facilitate ABT workshops and programming.
Key to our success is the integration of young ABT graduates into the decision-making and programming process of the organization.
Although ABT was officially established in Los Angeles in 2014 by José Yenque, it has existed almost since the moment that Yenque visited Tijuana, while participating as an actor in the Oscar-winning film Traffic (2000). He saw “a need to address the transition into adulthood of abandoned youth, using the arts as tools to help them overcome traumas and learning barriers in order to better prepare for life.” This vision is based on Yenque’s own experience and personal growth as a teen and his use of the performance arts.
ABT seeks to provide a solid educational, therapeutic, and social integration platform, so that its young student participants acquire both personal and occupational skills. Every student is treated with respect and, in turn, develops self-respect and that toward others. Students go through a process of emotional healing, as they acquire other skills through the ABT program. They are given the tools to better face the world, thus becoming active, functional, and self-sufficient members of society.
ABT now has 14 years of uninterrupted experience, working independently in Tijuana orphanages, where it began conducting workshops, but also holding talks and lectures in high schools and universities. A decade of mentoring and research resulted in a formal work program that more fully meets the needs of ABT’s students. Due to their success, these activities spread to U.S. educational institutions in high-risk areas.
Who We Serve
At present, ABT serves underprivileged youth in Los Angeles and Tijuana. It plans to expand its programs to San Diego and other areas where there is a need. The majority of Tijuana student participants resides in orphanages or remote and disadvantaged areas. Los Angeles-based students attend underfunded inner-city schools, with little access to enrichment programs. Our target populations frequently come from environments of abuse, neglect, poverty, violence, and homelessness. Without intervention and positive alternatives, ABT students are at risk of failing and falling into destructive behaviors and activities.
What We Do
ABT utilizes the arts to prevent and reduce school dropout rates and minimize unhealthy activities, such as gang violence that is prevalent in underprivileged communities. Our dedicated team of instructors provides students with life-skills development, mentoring, and hands-on instruction and activities through the visual and performing arts.
Our student participants become actively engaged in self-discovery, learn coping skills, bring down their protective barriers, and begin to develop their potential. They do this through writing, performance, and team-building activities such as producing short films together with industry professionals and designing and painting murals to beautify their community. The arts provide a positive diversion from destructive behaviors. Students are more likely to improve their grades and become more engaged in healthy activities.
Students are provided structured opportunities that allow them to see beyond their current circumstances. We help them overcome adversity as they prepare for a life as both independent young adults and active members of their local community.
The full range of comprehensive programs and workshops that ABT offers includes:
Acting: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Trans Border Peer Mentoring and Collaboration
Acting / Screening-writing: Healthy Relationships & Teen Dating Violence Prevention
Community Mural Design
Language Arts Instruction/Reinforcement(Spanish & English)
Art, Culture, Education, and Career Field Trips
ABT student participants visit college campuses, film studios, cultural centers, and other professional settings selected to contextualize ABT’s curriculum. Students also participate in peer mentoring with youth on the other side of the border (Mexico or the United States), interacting through teleconferencing and messaging. This interaction creates international camaraderie, team work, and emotional support.
Why We Care
After graduating high school or aging out of the orphanage, most youth are still not prepared for their future. They have no knowledge of how to survive financially, find a job, or obtain housing. In addition, low-school performance and low income make a college education impossible. With few options, many youth turn to risky and unhealthy behaviors.
ABT works with marginalized populations that, in their majority, have experienced abuse and trauma. As a result, they risk engaging in activities that can have long-term ill effects on their future: gang activity, dropping out of school, criminal behavior, substance abuse, and prostitution. According to the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, there are more than 1,300 gangs in Los Angeles County; 31.5% of ninth-through-twelfth graders admitted to fighting in school in the previous year. More startling, 17.5% reported carrying a weapon on school grounds. Not surprisingly, more than half of the homicides reported in Los Angeles are related to gang activity. Often, their despair comes from the belief that they have been abandoned by society. The prevalence of violence shows that:
Youth who are involved in gangs or drugs are more likely to be victims or perpetrators of violence
Youth who have difficulty coping with problems are more likely to engage in violent behavior
Youth without a strong family bond or positive influences are more at risk
Exposure to violence or abuse increases the risk that the youth will engage in violence
These startling statistics and constraining factors that this population faces motivate ABT to develop innovative programs to address these threatening scenarios. ABT engages its students’ minds and taps into their creativity, thus giving them a voice and building their self-esteem and self-worth. ABT’s goal is to help youth develop real-life skills, set higher educational goals for themselves, and enhance their capacity and creativity to manage their development as independent young adults. With the premise that every young person deserves to live a productive and happy life, ABT believes that the strength of the arts will allow this to become their reality.