(KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot / October 31, 2012)

Clutching a small mold packed with sugar, meringue powder and water, Andrea Ortega, 12, prepared to flip her creation upside down to find an intact sugar skull.

"Please don't crack," she chanted. "Please don't crack."

About half a dozen students and two mothers gathered in Save Our Youth's music room Wednesday evening, making sugar skulls for the organization's first Dia de los Muertos Community Festival, which is at 6 p.m. Friday.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is dedicated to remembering in an artistic way loved ones who have passed away, said Eduardo Iniestra, SOY's arts and music coordinator.

"We want to start celebrating this tradition because we are a big Latino community here," he said. "It's a part of our culture."

Center Operational Manager Silvia Rosales said it's important to celebrate everyone's cultures while also increasing SOY's visibility.

"We're hoping to get more of the community involved and have a presence in the community," she said.

Andrea also said she doesn't think many people know what SOY does or where it is, despite the fact that "SOY is like a home to many kids and their families."

The nonprofit on Costa Mesa's Westside works to raise students' self-esteem, keeping them out of trouble and helping them get on the path toward college.

It offers an academic program as well as a girls' program, fitness, music, arts and dance classes.

The festival will feature sugar skulls for decoration, an altar to make offerings to loved ones, music by SOY's deejay students, face painting, dancing, a raffle, food for sale and Loteria, a form of Bingo using objects instead of numbers.

Jacqueline Contreras, 17, was painting a large canvas Wednesday of a woman with half her face made up to look like a skull for the event.

Jacqueline was raised to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.

"We keep [the dead] in our heart, so it's a nice day to remember that," she said. "They're all a part of us — not forgotten."

Iniestra said he wants the festival to become an annual event and grow to include neighboring schools and performances.

britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

If You Go

What: SOY's first Dia de los Muertos Community Festival

When: 6 to 9:30 p.m. Friday

Where: SOY Center, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

Cost: Free admission. Food and activities for a fee.

Information: http://www.save-our-youth.org