To win $150 in a poster contest, 11-year-old Sherwin Arzani was supposed to paint a "Wonderful Westwood," but instead, he painted "Help, please" over Westwood high-rises sticking out of a globe.
Like many children who entered the poster and essay contests to celebrate Westwood's 60th birthday, Sherwin saw the down side of Westwood and echoed the slow growth philosophy that their parents advocate.
Sixth-grader Tracy Nishida wrote that "tons of things will be better" if there were fewer people in Westwood.
On a more poetic but just as serious note, Jaclynn Davis, 8, said in her essay, "Oh Westwood, how you fill me with glory, but I really have to say, you need to be quieter in the middle of the day."
Those thoughts and similar ones from young minds revealed a surprise to contest judges and sponsors: Children share with adults the concerns about serious problems. About 250 children wrote essays on ways to improve Westwood--hiring the homeless to build a park and barring car traffic from the city--and painted posters in contests to involve the young, an effort spearheaded by Celebrate Westwood's 60th, the group overseeing the city's festivities.
The contests' organizer, David Hekmat, interpreted Sherwin's artwork. "He's concerned about development, congestion, pollution," Hekmat said, "and what he's trying to say is that if you don't do something, Westwood is going to be a time bomb and one of these days, it's going to explode."
One of the essay judges, a 20-year Westwood resident, said the children's writing opened his eyes to the problems in the city and to what children are thinking about.
"I hadn't noticed there was that much graffiti in Westwood and that much homelessness in Westwood," said UCLA professor Sol Cohen. "I was quite impressed by the thoughtfulness in which the kids approached the contest. The most surprising thing is their sympathy for the homeless, the hungry, the broke . . . more sympathetic, I imagine, than their parents would be. They want something done about the homeless . . . giving them jobs, planting trees and flowers, so they can buy food. There was none of this 'Clear them out.' "
Some children, including Sahar Tchaitchian, saw Westwood in a more romantic light. Her poster, which won first place in the elementary level, featured a birthday cake and stars with words such as boutiques describing what she likes about Westwood.
"There's always excitement when you're there," the 11-year-old said in an interview. "You feel the warmth from the people and there's energy from UCLA. It's like a little village and people everywhere come and leave their worries behind."
Westwood merchants and residents finished judging about 250 essays and posters last week, picking four winners for each contest. Local banks and businesses donated $1,200 in cash prizes. Posters are on view at Westside and Westwood savings banks until Tuesday, and Celebrate Westwood's 60th is considering publishing the essays. In addition, contest winners got a chance to ride in a fire engine Friday as part of UCLA's homecoming parade.
Although Sherwin, the time bomb artist, did not win the poster contest, he said, "Everywhere you look in Westwood there's a problem, and I was trying to see if I could find a solution to one of them."
And if contestants like Sherwin are Westwood's future, Cohen said he is optimistic about the coming years. "Most people don't see kids as public spirited and concerned citizens. I think they'd like to be involved, like to be asked to clean up, plant trees, help the homeless. I only hope that they don't move too far away and that they indeed become adult citizens of Westwood and retain their caring concern for the future of Westwood."