It's easy to make fun of Miley Cyrus. Just Google "bunny costume" and "twerk."
But Cyrus is serious about her charity work. She just started the Happy Hippie Foundation, to rally "young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBT youth and other vulnerable populations." Cyrus founded HHF after a visit last summer to a homeless youth center called My Friend's Place.
(Miley Cyrus, thumbs up, with My Friend's Place staff. That's ED Heather Carmichael in the front row, hands on knees. Courtesy My Friend's Place)
Every day, 100 homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 25 - most of them products of our troubled foster care system - come through My Friend's Place, on Hollywood Blvd between Bronson and the 101 in the heart of gritty Hollywood.
KPCC Photographer Maya Sugarman and I toured the center last week, and executive director Heather Carmichael told us Cyrus' tour started a "little bit of a whirlwind" that saw one of the center's clients accept Cyrus' VMA award and make an impassioned speech, and that brought $240,000 to My Friend's Place to pay for food, clothing, and arts programming.
Our tour started at the "safe haven." It's a big busy room that could be the lobby of a youth hostel. A bank of microwaves heat up cheap, calorie-rich food ("We're not farm to table," Carmichael says), there's wi-fi, and dozens of young people moving around in what Carmichael calls "organized chaos."
This is the first point of contact. Carmichael says, "this is where young people come on a daily basis to get their basic needs taken care of, and to have a safe place and sense of community while they're trying to figure out how to move forward." Here, there are no cops rousting the kids and no pimps trying to prostitute them. Here, they can get a shower, four items of clothing, and food ... not to mention every type of social service you can think of, from health care to job counseling.
And here, they can also be kids. Instead of a workout room, for instance, there's a "Cirque" room, created by Cirque du Soleil and Jeunesse du Monde, where young people get exercise, and learn to trust themselves by juggling or walking a tightrope ... and it's no coincidence these are all metaphors for adult life.
My Friend's Place, which is approaching its 30th anniversary, reports that every year it provides services to 1,400 youth, serves more than 30,000 meals, gets 120 into housing and 90 into jobs.
"I leave every day feeling more filled than when I started the day," Carmichael says. "These young people have such courage and commitment and strength, which is often perceived as anger. This group of young people are way stronger than many of us, and given the right opportunity and support, can become our community leaders, and left on the streets, what would we expect to happen?"