My name is Melody Rossi, and I’m the Founder of Cloud & Fire.

When I moved from the Inland Empire to Los Angeles in 1993—only a year after the Rodney King riots—I had never personally encountered a gang member, nor did I understand the impact of poverty or gangs on youth. But after accepting a teaching job at a middle school in Mexican Mafia territory, my perspective radically changed. My students taught me about gangs. When they witnessed murders, lost loved ones to bullet wounds, gloated after participating in brutal crimes, or displayed the hollow-eyed look of living in constant fear, they became my teachers. These lessons became my call to action.

Gangs thrive when youth are starved for meaningful connections. They offer what appear to be belonging, respect, and physical comforts in exchange for allegiance. These are generally only high-cost counterfeits, but vulnerable youth almost always prefer the shabby that is immediately available over the valuable that cannot yet be attained. In contemplating ways I could personally make a difference for youth in gang communities, I thought back to my own excruciating teen years. I was desperate for adults who would notice me and speak into my life. Thankfully, an aunt, a youth pastor, and my best friend’s mother all did exactly that—and became life boats to rescue me from the shipwreck of my life. They modeled their faith, and demonstrated lives well-lived. I survived and became who I am today because of them.

I founded Cloud & Fire to give kids what others gave to me—help through the tough years. What we do is simple, but profound. We show up. We listen. We care. We look right into kids’ hearts and see what is there, and accept them as they are, with all the messiness of their lives. We offer up healing for wounds and skills for the future, and we keep showing up, even when there are mistakes, setbacks, and failures. And all along the way, we share the gospel. We love because Christ first loved us. These are our weapons in the fight against gangs—and all the other things that destroy young lives.

My life before Cloud & Fire has had many twists and turns. I’ve been a professional opera singer, an author, a classroom teacher, and a university professor. These aren’t exactly the perfect resume builders for founding a nonprofit to keep kids out of gangs. But they are evidence that God doesn’t call the equipped—He equips the called.

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