After his sophomore year at Banning High in Wilmington, Oscar Natividad pretty much stopped attending, opting to stay home and draw - or do a little tagging, truth be told.
This summer, the 17-year-old found a second chance in the Harbor YouthSource Center, a new entity located on the Los Angeles Harbor College campus whose small staff of tutors and counselors helps high school dropouts ages 14-21 get back on track.
Now, Oscar is catching up on credits and using his talents productively: his artwork hangs on the center's wall, and he has designs on becoming an architect.
On Thursday, a host of dignitaries, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, gathered at Harbor College to celebrate the opening and officially name the center in honor of Assemblyman Warren Furutani.
The Warren T. Furutani Harbor Area YouthSource Center is among 13 such centers for dropouts and other struggling students that opened July 1 throughout the city of Los Angeles.
Villaraigosa said the new center offers wayward youths the same second chance he received as a youngster growing up in East Los Angeles. For a while, Villaraigosa - who was raised in a broken home without a father figure - was a high school dropout. He later finished but not with high marks.
"I'm not proud of this," he told an audience of about 100 during Thursday's ceremony, "but I graduated with a 1.4 grade point average."
He found his second chance at East Los Angeles College, which, like Harbor College, is part of the Los Angeles Community College District.
"That was the experience that taught me, `I can make it,"' said Villaraigosa, who later attended UCLA.
The 13 YouthSource centers were funded by a Workforce Investment Act grant won by the city of Los Angeles. (The Harbor College center costs $900,000 a year to operate.) They are run in collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District, whose dropout-prevention unit works directly out of the 13 new centers.
The idea is to tackle a crisis still plaguing LAUSD, where the dropout rate, though improving, remains too high at 21 percent.
Seventy percent of the students served at the centers are either high school dropouts or out-of-school students, meaning recent graduates who lack basic academic skills.
The center at Harbor College currently serves about 40 students, but executive director Sandra Sanchez said she'd like to boost that number to 200.
All 13 YouthSource centers are operated by subcontractors. Harbor YouthSource Center is run by Harbor College itself, and thus far is the only one of the bunch that exists on the campus of a college. Others are run by nonprofit groups, or UCLA, which administers two centers off campus, one downtown and the other in the West Los Angeles area.
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