2022 Grants Challenge

Connecting LA Youth through Story

The PLUS ME Storytellers workshop series helps boost classroom and campus safety by cultivating self-awareness, self-confidence, and community connection within high school students in LA. Students build their stories by answering questions about who they are, where they have been, and where they are going. By doing that work together and sharing out with peers, students build empathy with and for each other, improving the culture of belonging in their classrooms and making them feel safer within their school campuses.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Community Safety

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

Central LA

East LA

San Fernando Valley

South LA

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

All students have the right to attend safe schools, as affirmed by the California State Constitution. According to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the number of high school students who reported feeling left out increased from 30% to 38% in 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened this situation. A 2020 UCLA study revealed that over 70% of young people felt isolated. We know that community disconnection leads to detachment and can exacerbate bullying behavior. In LA County, 26% of 9th graders reported being bullied, according to a California Healthy Kids Survey in 2019. The CDC has announced that bullying has a negative effect on how students feel about themselves (27%), their relationships with friends and family (19%), their school work (19%), and physical health (14%). PLUS ME has proven that the personal story can help cultivate safe, inclusive spaces where youth have the opportunity to connect with each other by sharing and empathizing with their life experiences.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

PLUS ME will bring our Storytellers series to 40 9th grade classrooms over the next year. This five-session program begins with a PLUS ME staff role model sharing their story, a summary of the struggles and accomplishments they experienced while navigating their life journey. This first day connects youth with adults who share how relatable stories can look, sound, and feel. Second, we empower youth by telling them that they have a story that matters, planting a seed of confidence and affirming that everyone belongs and is valued. Next, we ask the group to establish community agreements and collectively define the space they need to showcase vulnerability and feel safe. Facilitators then direct them through our My Story Matters Journals, which won UCLA’s 2019 Social Enterprise Competition. These 100-page personal narrative guides are filled with prompts that help students identify the characters, settings, struggles, accomplishments, and lessons that comprise their stories. Through self-reflection activities and intentional dialogues, students build deeper connections with their peers through this process, helping them realize they are not alone. The program culminates in a community circle in which students are invited to share their stories, unapologetically owning who they are while learning about their classmates. Through this program, youth increase their empathy, feeling of belonging, and confidence while improving the culture of peace and inclusion in their classrooms.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

PLUS ME commits to reducing the number of reported bullying incidents within the schools we partner with and increase the feeling of safety and belonging for students. After these 9th graders are given the opportunity to self-reflect and empathize with one another, LA will be filled with more youth who are confident in their sense of self and therefore more willing and able to cultivate kindness in their communities. Our city will feature a diverse set of storytellers who proudly embrace their authentic identities and serve as role models for how to relate and support others when grounded by a firm sense of self. Together, we will build stronger connections among one another and empower future generations to learn how to unapologetically own who they are and proudly articulate why they matter in any situation. It will create a culture of peace and belonging for thousands of students at the high school sites we visit with our program.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

We have been measuring impact and gaining participant feedback since 2016. Our intended impact is for youth to increase their connection with self and others and their general sense of confidence. PLUS ME is proud that 76% of students who experienced our programs increased self-awareness, 80% expressed higher confidence, and 93% recommended their peers participate. Many students raved about how they learned more about their classmates that they have known for years and increased their empathy for one another. One student shared, “This program not only changed my life by helping me understand and vocalize my story, but it saved my life by surrounding me with a community of peers that I now can call my friends.” Another student offered: “I can’t wait to keep growing and spreading my wings to help and uplift others’ voices to also share their stories and help others fly alongside us. I have metamorphosed into a butterfly. The girl that once felt trapped is ready to fly now.”

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 1,200

Indirect Impact: 2,500