2022 Grants Challenge

Wonderseed Foundation's Express Yourself

Express Yourself program is unique in its approach to cognitive behavioral health by utilizing a customized Trauma-informed Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum within a juvenile justice setting. Our programming is based on neuroscience and designed to promote the development of kids’ brains by connecting through a evidenced-based SEL interactive delivery system with cognitive-behavioral coaching, immersive VR experiences, mindfulness/brain training gamification activities coupled with our digital human soft skills job interviewing agent.


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

Youth Economic Advancement (sponsored by Funding Partner, TBA)

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?

LA Juvenile detention centers currently have a 64 - 69% recidivism rate. Not only is the recidivism rate astronomically high, but the overall rate of youth incarceration is also disproportionately impacting boys within low-income and communities of color. Early institutionalization into the juvenile justice probation system during adolescence means that even a single mistake in managing aggression, making decisions, or regulating emotions can have severe consequences and inordinately impact the direction of their life. This can cause a vicious cycle of a revolving door if the root causes are not addressed and if our youth are not given proper knowledge, skills, guidance, and support to course-correct their emotional deregulation. Our interactive cognitive-behavioral coaching actively engages teens with immersive virtual reality experiences, and mindfulness/brain training gamification activities coupled with our digital human soft skills job interviewing agent have been transformative.

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

The Express Yourself program combines social-emotional learning, storytelling and technology uniquely designed to provide this population of children, who have been stigmatized by bias in an institutionalized system, with the tools necessary to overcome societal obstacles and emotional deregulation through teaching positive communication skills, good decision making, constructive thought patterns, combined with effective workforce preparation that will allow for job retention and job advancement. An intervention program specifically designed to address the disturbingly high recidivism rate among our justice-involved youth. Many of our youth who enter the justice system as early as 12-13 years of age stay involved with the system until well over the age of 25 years old. Our aim is to help to break those cycles by teaching our youth to understand, regulate, and express themselves in a more healthy, constructive manner through a comprehensive Virtual Reality role-playing and Cognitive Behavioral coaching platform. WonderSeed Foundation currently implements this unique program with one of the most challenging justice-involved youth populations within the Los Angeles County Department of Probation residential camp facilities. Our program is voluntary and we currently have an unprecedented 90% engagement and participation rate.

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

Our goal is to help our troubled youth help themselves by addressing the source of the issue, not just treating the symptom. WonderSeed is in a unique position to support program expansion/evolution through its extensive relationships and program partnerships with existing government agencies, established community-based organizations, and stakeholders. The program's main goals are to help youth overcome internal and societal obstacles, initiate positive behavioral change, improve communication skills, overcome emotional deregulation, and prepare to enter/reenter the workforce. Our program will provide Los Angeles County with a meaningful, individualized intervention aimed at reducing recidivism through changing behavior and providing opportunities for individuals to succeed and become a sustainable national model for restorative justice and prevention/intervention care to provide our youth proper knowledge, skills, guidance, and support to course-correct their emotional deregulation.

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

Participants will be asked to respond to a diverse collection of assessment instruments. These surveys and tests will capture demographic/historical information, personality, mental/emotional health screening, and vocational efficacy expectations. Vocational Interview Training Agents (VITA) is a system developed at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies and is designed to administer job interview role-play training. Psycho/Emotional VR/Web/App-based training system aims to improve self-awareness and communication skills by optimizing and expanding the previously successful Talk Tank VR role-playing application used. Virtual Reality Talk Tank (VRTT) training system is an immersive role-play training system that is experienced within a virtual reality headset with a live Cognitive Behavior trained coach. The Enhance Cognitive training system aims to improve specific domains of global cognition by engaging users in cognitively demanding tasks.

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

Direct Impact: 120

Indirect Impact: 50