2022 Grants Challenge

Healing Trauma, Building Character for Youth

Spirit Awakening Foundation’s (SAF) trauma-informed, restorative arts prevention and intervention programs for youth mitigate LA County’s youth incarceration problems. Offering meditation, creative arts, mentoring and leadership training, SAF addresses the internalized self-hatred and low self-esteem stemming from racist structures that oppress and harm many youth and communities of color. Funds will be used to support SAF staff and contractors who are key to sustaining SAF's work to build character and raise self-esteem, one child at a time.


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

Support for Foster and Systems-Impacted Youth

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

County of Los Angeles

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?

SAF’s restorative, meditative arts curriculum was created to help participants reclaim their dignity, value and self-worth, thus addressing the problems youth face with internalizing hatred/self-loathing and rejection as results of racist, oppressive systems and laws. LA County spends nearly $400 million a year investing in youth prisons (which detain about 400 children at any given time). Despite only making up 8% of LA County’s population, roughly 36% of the County’s youth prison population is Black (Black youth are 6.5 times more likely, and Latino youth are twice as likely, to be arrested than white youth). The LA County Board of Supervisors’ 2020 motion to replace the juvenile justice system by 2025 with a new trauma-informed, community-based, restorative justice treatment and rehabilitative services model has made it clear how badly LA’s communities need programs to support youth diverted away from incarceration. This is why SAF’s programs are needed now more than ever.

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

This SAF initiative mitigates LA’s youth incarceration problem by continuing and expanding trauma-informed, restorative arts prevention and intervention programs as requested by the County. SAF’s esteemed curriculum, Writes of Passage (created by SAF’s Founder/CEO, Akuyoe Graham) supports underserved, foster and systems-impacted youth in public high schools, continuation high schools and juvenile facilities. Funding would sustain key staff/contractor positions at the following 2022-23 program sites: Central Juvenile Hall, Dorothy Kirby Probation Camp, Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, John Muir HS, Whittier HS, Frontier Continuation HS and New Earth. SAF also has a growing waiting list. With programs hailed as “creative, innovative and powerful” by the CA State Dept. of Justice, SAF’s curriculum uniquely empowers youth to challenge fundamental beliefs about themselves by exploring themes of identity, forgiveness, healing, gratitude, and success. SAF also offers youth access to: free, warm meals; financial aid; college-bound scholarships; cultural enrichment; international service trips, and professional opportunities, and more. SAF program participants heal from trauma, build their self-confidence and transform their lives. SAF’s initiative is unique as it supports and sustains the work of one of the first (and most highly-regarded) organizations in LA County using the arts with holistic, trauma-informed, mindfulness practices creatively to help neglected and abused youth heal.

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

SAF’s vision for success is to continue to excel and to expand its current programming to support foster and systems-impacted youth so LA County can reach its objective to end youth incarceration by 2025. LA County is establishing a new ‘care-first’ model focused on alternative, community-based, rehabilitative services offered to high-risk youth. SAF’s Founder/CEO also serves as a nonprofit community leader on LA County’s first Office of Violence Prevention Community Partnership Council, where she gives recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors that will help LA County communities thrive. Being able to pay essential staff/contractors managing SAF’s operations and programming helps SAF meet its short term goal to continue its existing wraparound supportive services for youth. By sustaining the key positions, SAF will meet its long-term goals to strengthen capacity to scale its existing programs to more sites nationally and internationally.

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

SAF’s efforts to combat racist structures that oppress, harm and neglect youth and communities of color is measured through participant surveys and stakeholder testimonials. 2021 program participant survey responses showed: 90% of surveyed participants accept responsibility for their actions when they made a mistake or got in trouble; 84% make decisions in their best interest to keep them out of trouble, and; 82% feel like people of worth, equal to others. Many youth participants have gone on to USC, Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego and San Francisco State and more, becoming doctors, teachers, business entrepreneurs and artists. In 2020, The California Wellness Foundation President/CEO, Judy Belk, shared: "I can't think of a better investment than SAF, an example of creativity, commitment and excellence under the leadership of the amazing Akuyoe Graham. Twenty six years of steadfastly guiding, supporting and mentoring our young people, Spirit Awakening deserves our commitment and support."

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

Direct Impact: 632

Indirect Impact: 1,284