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Season's Givings: Sherman Oaks nonprofit 'The Help Group' provides support for children with special needs

Season's Givings: The Help Group

Amy Lieu/KPCC

Andrea Lockhart is a volunteer with The Help Group's after-school improv program. She shares her experience with KPCC.

This post is part of KPCC's "Season's Givings" series, chronicling volunteer experiences  and opportunities during the holiday season. View a full listing of charitable organizations seeking help this season and let us know your holiday volunteer story!

Based in Sherman Oaks, The Help Group  operates nine day schools on seven campuses in the Los Angeles area to provide services for children with special needs related to autism, Asperger's Disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays and emotional problems.

“Typically, kids with autism have a difficult time with social skills. Through the improv games, we help kind of develop those," says Andrea Lockhart, a volunteer for The Help Group’s after-school program.

The improv workshop is only one of the after-school activities offered by The Help Group's Kids Like Me program. Designed to encourage kids with autism and other developmental challenges to laugh, play and interact with one another, the programs are located on The Help Group's Sherman Oaks and Culver City campuses and are open to the public. Other classes offered after school include social skills groups, Yoga Train, ballet, chess, basketball and karate.


A PEW study finds lengthy prison terms cost a lot, with little return

In the past two decades, prison sentences have doubled.

On Wednesday, the PEW Center on the States released a study centered around a surprising fact: states now spend $51 billion a year on corrections, with most of that money going to prisons. The culprit, the report says, is longer prison terms, which have doubled since 1990.

In California, for instance, the average prison term went up 51 percent between 1990-2009, with inmates serving an average of 2.9 years.

Calculating the cost of longer sentences nationwide, PEW found that, “for offenders released from their original commitment in 2009 alone, the additional time behind bars cost states over $10 billion, with more than half of this cost attributable to non- violent offenders.

Meanwhile, crime has dropped across the country, a fact often cited as evidence of the effectiveness of harsh prison sentences. According to the PEW report, “increased use of incarceration accounted for one-quarter to one-third of the crime drop in the 1990s,” and, the report suggests, the country’s reached a “tipping point” where relying on more incarceration will no longer improve results.