Gina Riva – Founder of Lotus Light Arts

Gina is a yoga instructor, educational advocate, artist, and founder of Lotus Light Arts, a non-profit outreach program for at-risk young women in Los Angeles that provides tools to build self-awareness, confidence and accountability through health education, character development, problem solving, yoga, meditation and the creative arts.

She credits yoga and art for saving her life – which were crucial in overcoming her own difficult history and life struggles and she developed a passion for helping others do the same. She is a  Chicago native who studied Art, Psychology and Education, received a Fine Arts Degree and studied Education and Art Therapy Methods at the graduate level. With many years of teaching experience in the classroom and later as an Educational Therapist specializing in Reading Development and Special Education here in Los Angeles,  her long time goal to become a certified yoga instructor after practicing for the last 15 years was finally realized.

After she achieved her long-time goal she began fulfilling her long-time dream to somehow bring the healing and creative arts together to help underserved young women in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. In March, 2010, she started Lotus Light Arts. Among the many hats she wears as the Founder and Executive Director, she also is the Yoga and Art Program Director.  The vision of Lotus Light Arts and herself, is that all underserved at-risk teen girls are empowered to make healthy lifestyle choices and regain control actions, lives and emotions so they can reach their full potential and become a strong and healthy community of women who are living independent of the public system. She believes that within each young woman are the seeds of a totally confident, self realized and self supporting adult.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I am concentrating on raising enough funds to run first two cycles of our program so we can get out there and help these young women! We just had our second successful fund raising event, which was a mind, body and spirit workshop including yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy, reiki and tarot. I am also working on a couple of grant applications with my amazing grant-writer, setting up interviews, and reaching out as much as I can to the community for support and awareness.

How do you bring ideas to life?

One part meditation, one part networking, two parts ambition and never ending amounts of patience and flexibility.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating and building your organization?

At this beginning stage, watching it grow and the light in people’s eyes who share my vision when I tell them what we are doing. I imagine that feeling will be magnified a zillion times more when we are actually out there helping these young women.

What has been your greatest challenge and how have you overcome it?

Wanting things to happen right away and not having any control over that whatsoever. Like I always say, it is a constant practice in patience.

Three trends that excite you?

Conscious Living – There are limitless reasons for this answer, a huge one being that I truly believe self-awareness is key to happiness, however you might come to it. Another small one is, I love that my brother, who gave me so much trouble for being a vegetarian in the 80’s, now has a daughter who refuses to eat anything that was once living and breathing.

Vinyl – I can’t even tell you how much I love that kids (and adults) are back into vinyl, and that bands are releasing new material on it! I was a huge collector of vinyl, who even after my collection was ruined in a basement flood, put off buying cd’s until the late 90’s. As much as I appreciate technology, nothing beats the snap and crackle of an old record and the click of a manual typewriter…. (will that be the next trend?)

Food trucks – Who knew this concept would be completely revitalized and brought to such a unique and gourmet level? My 15 year-old self would never have believed you could get mascarpone ice cream in a snickerdoodle cookie sandwich and a grilled brie, carmelized pear and honey sandwich all on the same street.

What inspires you?

So many things…art, music, nature….above all, depth and strength of spirit. People who rise up from extenuating circumstances, shine, and reach in to give back and help others do the same.

What is one mistake you’ve made an what did you learn from it?

One mistake? I’ve made many of course. I don’t believe you can truly learn anything fully unless you’ve made mistakes. One big mistake I’ve made is that I’ve lowered my standards to please people. I was offered pro bono work on some graphic things in the beginning, and it really triggered some old feelings of guilt (See – What is something you had to learn to do in order to do this kind of work?). At first I was very adamant about things that I needed done, but when the other person seemed to get upset, I acted very passive aggressively and then finally accepted what was given to me and tried to fix things myself. This is why we have the wrong website address on our pamphlet. I learned that I need to communicate effectively and not take things personally.

What is one book and/or tool that helps you?

I can’t name just one book, so I’ll go with the tool. The tool is simply, the breath. Whenever I get distracted, frustrated or stressed, I do some deep breathing. So simple, yet so easy to forget. It’s amazing how much trouble or turmoil you can save yourself from by just stopping for a few moments to breathe. The breath helps us to focus, calm down, keep from reacting, and so much more. The breath is a tool I always have with me.

What made you decide to start your non-profit organization?

Yoga and Art helped me through many traumatic events in my life and I wanted to help others do the same. I’d been dreaming of bringing yoga and art together to help people for over 20 years but didn’t know how exactly to go about it. I always thought I’d have to come up with some outrageous funds in order to open a center or something like that. One summer, right before my 40th birthday, one of my best friends, who had recently started working for a non-profit that brings dance to underprivileged kids in schools, came to visit from New York. She asked me quite simply why I needed a place for people to come to, when I could just go to them? So obvious, of course! All I needed was that first crucial piece of the puzzle to step into high gear. After that, I don’t know if it was timing or fate, but I began to make many more connections and began to discover countless resources I needed to get started.

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

Karn Myers of FixNation, a non-profit operating the only free, full-time spay/neuter clinic in Los Angeles for homeless, stray and feral cats.

How can members of our community help?

They can spread the word, get involved by volunteering time or services, and/or make a single or monthly donation on our website. The more support from the community we have, the stronger we become, the better chances we have of getting financial support from public and private foundations, the more young women we can reach.

What is something you had to learn how to do in order to do this kind of work?

I had to learn how to ask for and accept money, time, and help from people. Again, so obvious, it’s a non-profit! Growing up, we weren’t allowed to share with anyone our personal or financial details with outsiders. To ask for help, financially or otherwise, would be admitting that we had problems and this came with shame. I took that with me even after my parents died when I was a pre-teen. The idea of shame was strong for me, but some of it was also that I didn’t feel like I even deserved help. Although, I worked on this in my 20’s and 30’s, this level of help and service people were offering and I had to ask for was on a new level. It took a lot of meditation and perspective.

With the economy the way it is, why would donors want to give their limited funds to your non-profit?

According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2006), adolescent girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system in the United States, with California in the lead. Many of the youth in the juvenile justice system have been exposed to myriad traumatic events, either as victims or as witnesses. Consequently, many of these youths develop PTSD and other mental and emotional disorders, which then impact their ability to achieve normal developmental milestones in a timely manner.
These same youth are especially vulnerable to homelessness – more than 25% of former foster children become homeless within four years of leaving the system and 50% of adolescents aging out of foster care and juvenile justice system will be homeless within six months (Covenant House Institute). In addition, these young girls are among the highest at-risk for substance abuse, mental illnesses, and incarceration, to name a few of the burdens that will ultimately land on the public health system (NSDUH 2003-2006). For many adolescent females there appears to be a link between the experience of abuse and neglect, the lack of appropriate treatment, and the behaviors that led to arrest. Lotus Light Arts gives girls tools to build healthy life skills that not only help them better themselves, but also better their community and their place in it, producing productive citizens, preventing further at-risk behaviors and incarceration, and ultimately saving the public health system, the state and tax-payers a lot of money.


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