Video: Writer helps rewrite troubled kids’ lives

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Josh Mankiewicz Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/6/2006 11:53:18 AM ET 2006-01-06T16:53:18

“Everybody makes mistakes in this world,” raps a young man, while another plays classical music.

But you can't buy tickets to these performances. The artists are teenage drug addicts. These kids were abused or abandoned. They have two things in common: early lessons in how hard life can be and the full attention of Jill Gurr.

“Thanks to Jill, I gonna keep it real and pay my bills,” says the rapper.

Gurr was a Hollywood screenwriter when she volunteered to help mentor children in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. What she discovered was that for high-risk kids already in trouble with drugs or the law, creative expression could make a huge difference.

“It gives them the idea of a career they might have or a way to change their lives,” she says. “And it gives them an outlet for their aggression and for their anxiety.”

From that came Gurr's non-profit foundation called Create Now, and with it her world changed, from producing fiction for the screen to rewriting the future of some young lives.

“I just get so much joy from seeing these children flourish under our programs and their lives change,” says Gurr. “And no matter what I write, it cannot be as important as changing a child's life.”

Darontay McClendon is one of Gurr’s success stories. He's been in and out of jail.

“I've had my share of trouble,” he says.

Gurr met him when he was serving time at a camp for juvenile offenders. She introduced him to filmmakers who cast him in a movie called “Gang Tapes,” about gang life in L.A., and she encouraged him to start writing.

“We actually just developed, like, a real relationship,” says McClendon. “Almost like a mother-type relationship.”

One life at a time, this former screenwriter is trying to turn tragedies into happy endings.

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