The scientist and artist is now a part of the Merced Multicultural Arts Center's Artree program, which brings artists into classrooms to work with students. And she does art demonstrations at the Merced County Fair and the Big Valley Arts & Culture Festival.
Aside from what the arts and similar activities do for a person's education, it also teaches him to get involved in his community and become a productive member of it. "They learn to contribute back to society," Thompson said. "It's a wonderful outlet to work out emotional issues if life isn't going along as you planned. Art teaches you to use your time productively."
Another Artree artist, Susan Vanderhorst, teaches her techniques to youngsters two days a week at juvenile hall. "It gives them a creative outlet," she explained. "Their days are so restrictive; this allows them to be freer thinkers."
Kids who take part in many activities don't end up making more money simply because of their hobbies, Santa said. But nontraditional pursuits can make people proud of what they do and foster higher hopes of achieving success.
And participating in extracurricular activities -- including sports, studies outside school and mentorship programs -- can keep kids out of trouble, said Suni White, spokeswoman for the Boys & Girls Club of Merced County.
"They say an idle mind is the devil's workshop," she said. "If you're not productive, there's no desire, no encouragement."
The idle mind vs. the busy mind
What winds up happening is that kids make their own fun. "They walk the mall," White said. "And that's the minimum. At the maximum -- gangs. Who doesn't want to be part of something?"
The Boys & Girls Club offers an option for young people in Merced County. It gives them somewhere to go, get help with homework, play sports and build relationships with other children and adults.
"It's better than being on the streets, getting into trouble," said Samantha Johnson, 17, a member who plays various sports at the club. "It makes the day go by faster."
All the young people who come in won't always be successful in life -- but they need to try, said Tony Slaton, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club. "It's about the process, the development of character, social skills, sportsmanship."
The local organization recently received a $96,000 grant from the state for outreach associated with gang prevention. This can be used in many ways, Slaton said.
The idea is to bring more at-risk youth into the Boys & Girls Club to teach them how to become educated, relate to others and stay out of trouble. The term "at-risk" applies to children who are exposed to or are already involved in violence, alcohol, drugs, poverty -- or, in a disturbing number of cases, all of them.
A large part of the organization's solution to poverty and crime is education. "Education is the intervention," Slaton said. "Get an education, get a job, take care of your family."
He believes the Merced area suffers from a lack of exposure to creative and academic influences. So part of the Boys & Girls Club program seeks to help young people see that these things are available to them.
Joshua Williams, 14, has attended the club for about a year and has become part of its junior staff. He gets community service credits at Merced High School for his work with other children, making sure everyone behaves.
William's says he already interacts better with other people and believes he has developed social skills that will help him get a better job down the road.