Six high school students from the Northeast San Fernando Valley helped found Youth Speak! Collective in 2005. After completing a community resource mapping project, these teens identified a tremendous need for youth resources, advocates, and activities in the communities of Pacoima, Arleta, San Fernando, and Sylmar. The youth filled this gap by working with YSC Founders David Keitzman and Whitney Kasserman to develop an eight-week seminar to encourage students to research community needs, learn community organizing strategies, and develop grant-writing and presentation skills to bring resources into their neighborhood. That seminar led to the idea of a community pocket garden. Using the skills they had learned, the participants developed a plan for the ‘literacy garden,’ and secured a $10,000 from City of Los Angeles Community Beautification Grant Program to bring the idea to life.
Youth Speak youth organized volunteer days to construct the garden, planting 12 trees, 300 plants, adding 3 benches, a mosaic trash can and stone border. After 650 volunteer hours and over $3,900 additional in-kind services and donations youth had created a green space where community members can have a place to relax, read, and enjoy life. Empowered by the experience, Youth Speak mentors and youth developed additional projects and programs, growing the grassroots organization into a year-round provider of afterschool programs for hundreds of young people.
“After seeing many of my friends and myself turn to drugs as an alternative, I realize that the youth do have say in the way the community changes and evolves and I want it to be positive.” -Evelyn Gomez, founding Youth Speak student