RYSE Makes Halloween Haven for Richmond Youth

By Nicholas Kusnetz

With a seemingly endless string of shootings plaguing Richmond in past weeks, youth organizers with RYSE were working hard Wednesday night to make sure all the blood was fake and all the screams were in delight. The organization’s youth center at 41st Street and Bissell Avenue was transformed into a Halloween haven, with scary rooms, pumpkin painting and a movie for the kids.

“We just wanted to do something for the community,” said Jay Siphanhtong, 18, who is part of the RYSE leadership team. “We wanted the kids to go somewhere that’s safe and fun.”

With plastic blood dripping down the walls and fake cobwebs covering doorways, kids passed through a series of rooms with frights and games. In one of the last rooms, a bowl of candy sat innocently on a table. Little did the children know that Greg Ollano, the 21-year-old co-chair of the leadership team, was hiding below.

“It’s one of the last scares all night before they go into the movie,” he said.

RYSE, which is in the process of becoming a non-profit organization, was formed to give youth in Richmond an opportunity to organize their own program. Tonight’s was their first public event.

“Youth should be in a leadership role,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who came to the event in a blonde wig—dressed as an “attention-getting politician.”

Gioia has been instrumental in organizing and seeking funding for RYSE. He said they have secured over $100,000 and plan to fix up the nearly empty building with a computer lab, a recording studio and a dance and drama room.

“We need more youth centers throughout Richmond,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ollano was still waiting under the table to grab the ankles of approaching children.

“I’ll be hanging out here all night,” he said. “I have candy underneath and my cell phone.”

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