The Art of Caring: Jay Belloli (1944-2021)
By Anne Riffenburgh
Once again, Jay Belloli had worked his organizational magic: the Foster Care Project's 2018 Art Show exhibit bustled with energy as visitors examined the professionally displayed artwork and engaged with the young participants, many of whom were eagerly discussing their work and basking in the glow of recognition. Still, Jay was worried. It was 11:00 a.m. and most of the artwork had sold, with the exception of one piece—a quirky pencil drawing of a cartoon character. The teen creator of the piece hovered nearby, bottom lip trembling; tears not far away. Jay noticed. Acting quickly, he approached one of the attendees and explained the situation. Could she help?
This interaction was quintessential Jay—his attentiveness, empathy, decisiveness, and profound kindness fully on display, an integral part of his being.
Jay Belloli's love of art, commitment to social justice, and attention to the needs of others was apparent early on. In 1970, while studying art history at UC Berkeley, he created the iconic anti-war poster, "Amerika is Devouring Its Children"in protest of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia. In his long career as an art and astronomy curator, Jay developed numerous art collections, advised and encouraged budding artists (as well as more seasoned ones), and coordinated many contemporary art books. A luminous figure in the art world nationally, as well as locally, Jay served for 20 years as exhibitions director for Pasadena's Armory Center for the Arts.
Jay was a valued part of the All Saints Community. For more than two decades, he brought his can-do energy and joyful spirit to many facets of church life. Jay participated as a member of the Foster Care Project from 2010 -2021 and served as its Chair in 2013. Jay never wavered in his commitment to improve the lives of vulnerable children. He established and organized nine annual Art Shows to showcase the vibrant, original work of children and teens in foster care, many of whom were survivors of trauma. Jay understood that art can serve as a powerful avenue of expression and healing, a way to tell a story or convey an emotion when mere words are not enough.
And what of that piece of art at the 2018 Art Show that failed to sell? Well, within moments of Jay's entreaty, the attendee had pulled out her credit card and purchased the piece. Then she sought out the young artist, who chatted happily about her love of art and drawing. Jay stood nearby, beaming.
The next time life calls out to you--"Can you help?”—you might recall the example of this warm and generous man, who never hesitated to serve or to gently press others into service. A fitting tribute might be the response, "Why, yes. Yes, I can."
And somewhere Jay will be beaming.
Randall Trice Pays It Forward
"As an African-American male and former foster youth, I wasn't supposed to amount to anything in life." –Randall Trice
Few things are more satisfying than believing in oneself and making dreams come true. Proving the naysayers wrong is the icing on the cake. In 2020, Randall Trice received his Master of Social Work degree from Azusa Pacific University. Today, this 31-year-old father of two is employed by The People Concern and works with the homeless population in Los Angeles County, providing mental health services. He is also the founder and executive director of Shoes4Grades, which offers new shoes to children as an incentive "to excel in school, enjoy the learning experience, and become life-long learners." The innovative non-profit allows any K-12 student to receive a pair of shoes when their cumulative grade point average improves by 5% or they maintain a 3.50 GPA.
Randall's experiences have shaped the man he is today and spurred his commitment to help others thrive. Of his early life, he has written:
"As a young child growing up in poverty, my goal was only to survive. Surviving in the streets that catered to my mother's addictions. Surviving in the neighborhood that builds you strong enough to threaten anyone who disses you, yet breaks your spirit and re- minds you that dreaming of opportunity is a fool's game. Born into a system that manifests failure, questions your existence, and implies success is short-lived for people like you [us], if it comes at all. Succeeding was never my goal; preparing for a possible opportunity was."
The road to finding those opportunities was not an easy one. Randall's bio, which appears on the Shoes4Grades webpage, contains this summary of his childhood and obstacles he faced:
"Randall entered the foster care system at age nine, when his brother was born addicted to crack cocaine. He lived with seven other children in the care of an overwhelmed grandmother. He was burdened by the stigma that emanates from the label "foster" and bullied for wearing hand- me-down clothing and shoes, cast off by older boys in the home. Randall struggled to find the motivation to do well academically. He had enough self- awareness to know that, if he wanted his life to be different, he needed to start thinking differently. He started taking school more seriously to break the pattern of being just another foster kid who would never amount to anything. He was determined to prove those who doubted him wrong..."
At age 18, Randall began participating in Youth Moving On ( YMO), a transitional program for youth leaving foster care. There he met Beth Gertmenian, a longtime Foster Care Project member who had started a mentoring program at YMO. The two quickly established a rapport. In a 2019 interview, Randall noted, "Beth has been a strong supporter and motivator for me since I was a young man at YMO. She saw the potential I had of gaining a greater future and living a successful life before I even dreamed about [such] a life... I am not only lucky but grateful to have met someone like Beth, who cares enough about my future to invest their time and love into my success." Despite his success, Randall Trice remains humble. And he remembers. He remembers the boy he once was. He remembers the pain and indignity of growing up as a foster youth in pov- erty. He remembers what it's like to feel "less-than." He has channeled that remembrance into wanting something more for this generation of children, many of whom face struggles similar to his own. By establishing Shoes4Grades, Randall has made an investment in the promise and potential of these young people. He hopes the students will work hard to earn the shoes and build the confidence that comes from doing well academically. He hopes the men- toring piece of the program will provide opportunities for them to blossom in the light of a caring adult.
Foster Care Project salutes Randall Trice for his commitment to paying it forward. We applaud his efforts to build bright and better futures for the children in our midst.
"I am here to show you that with self- determination and believing in yourself, there is no limit to what you can achieve. Dream big and trust in the process." --Randall Trice, Founder of Shoes4Grades
Photo: Jeff Cay