As a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico, Ana Jimenez-Hami’s father Freddy gave her words of wisdom and sound advice that she carries with her today, especially when it comes to helping those less fortunate than she. “He’d always say, ‘You have to learn to give back to others in need,’ ” the now-Irvine, CA resident recalls.
Tragically Freddy, her mother and 13 other people were killed during a robbery at Freddy’s jewelry store two decades ago. The incident devastated Jimenez-Hami and has forever changed her life. As she searched to make sense of it all, she thought back to her father’s advice and through that inspiration she created the Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center. The organization uses the arts, ranging from painting, music or dance, to help transform the lives of low-income children residing in the crime-prevalent town of Santa Ana, CA.
“When he died, his words about ‘giving back to others’ were the very first thing that came to my mind,” she said.
And give back she did. Since its foundation in 2000, the generous woman and her organization has helped over 15,000 kids, often at no charge for their parents. One of those children who was struggling and has definitely benefited from Jimenez-Hami’s center is Martha Rivera. Coming from a troubled and impoverished family, Rivera came to the center wanting to learn how to play the piano. The staff quickly learned that the young girl was a natural musician, capable of picking up various instruments and mastering them.
“I want to cry when I tell her story,” Jimenez-Hami recalls. “She was on the verge of becoming just another statistic – either ending up in a gang or getting pregnant.”
Thanks to a great group of music instruction and academic tutors, the now-23 -year-old Rivera went from being a D student to graduating as valedictorian from her high school. She recently earned her master’s degree from Harvard.
Rivera, who now manages the center’s after-school arts programs, has said: “Dr. Ana’s dedication to her community is second to none. I am where I am today because of her guidance. She instilled in me the belief that education is the most important thing in my life.”
Aside from concentrating on the arts, the center branched out into other programs, including job training and family wellness classes for the parents of disabled children, those of whom are students at the center.
Freddy would most definitely be proud of his dear Ana. We sure are!
Image via PEOPLE