In 2005, Youth Speak Collective founders David Kietzman and Whitney Kasserman saw an urgent need for educational resources and activities for youth living in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. Compelled to help fill the void, David and Whitney developed an eight-week seminar in which students explored community needs, grassroots organizing, grant writing skills to bring new resources into the community and planning to improve the health of their community. 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