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2023 Grants Challenge
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Co-Empowering Youth Through Healing Art

AHJN's Youth Leadership Development (YLD) program co-empowers youth to reclaim their narratives. We use the arts as a way to increase empathy and solidarity. Youth-created art transforms how young people see themselves, changes how communities see these young artists, and re-humanizes them within a juvenile justice system that more often than not denies youth their humanity. We connect advocacy to those most impacted; centering arts and art-making as a way to build community, partnership, and resilience in systems-change work.

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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?

AHJN serves young people who have faced enormous challenges. Justice-involved and at-promise youth represent some of the most underserved and marginalized populations comprised of multiple intersecting identities - including diverse racial and ethnic identity, gender identity, and sexual orientation, among many others. Boys and girls of color are vastly overrepresented within Los Angeles County's juvenile justice system. The factors that contribute to justice involvement can create compounding inequity and barriers throughout a youth's life: trauma, community violence, gang involvement, and poverty. We also serve those who have not had direct juvenile justice system involvement but might have experienced harm by other systems such as the foster care system and the education system. YLD addresses these issues by using healing-centered arts and a strengths-based approach to give youth a way to process these experiences and use them to heal.

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

YLD features evidence-based programming including responsive healing-informed arts education, Creative/Positive Youth Development, Social Emotional Learning, Trauma-Informed Care, and mentorship. Through YLD, we will help young people reclaim their lived experience and grow into advocates and leaders, through three program components: the Our True Colors (OTC) peer support group, a Youth Resiliency & Movement Building Fellowship track focused on youth-led advocacy, and an Art Fellowship track where youth become paid interns with an AHJN member. OTC sessions, held virtually once per week after school throughout the year, consist of healing-informed arts education utilizing a variety of media, plus community and relationship building with and between young people. OTC serves as a "landing pad" for youth where they are connected with other resources to help meet their basic needs. OTC includes peer mentorship, whereby youth who have already participated in the program mentor new students. Youth who participate in OTC may also continue in one of YLD's other two tracks. In Art Fellowships, we match youth with network member organizations for a paid, 200-hour workforce development fellowship. In our Youth Resiliency & Movement Building Fellowship, youth build leadership skills by giving public comment at policy meetings, training members on the County's advocacy landscape, and sitting on committees. Over the course of the next year, we anticipate serving 45 youth through YLD.

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

AHJN envisions a future in which system-impacted and at-promise youth in Los Angeles County reclaim their own narrative, create better futures, build strong communities, and transform systems using the arts as a vehicle for self-expression and healing. Our programming is responsive to the needs of Black and Brown young people in LA County. YLD is a safe environment where youth are able to share their thoughts without judgment and create art that speaks to their experiences. By helping youth advocate for change in a way that makes them feel heard, we are also making real change at the County level and beyond. AHJN aims to sustain and expand our programming, continuing the work of YLD youth. Young people deserve access to resources that help meet their physical, mental, emotional, and financial needs and have spaces where they feel safe. Ultimately, AHJN hopes to change LA County by co-empowering youth to transform the juvenile justice system.

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

AHJN uses a spreadsheet-based database system to record attendance, participation, survey results, and other impact data. Additionally, a retrospective survey is administered during programming to capture a snapshot of the youth's experience in the program. This strengths-based survey (co-developed with AHJN youth) explores youths' sense of social connection, access to resources, and sense of mastery (of skills, or overcoming a previous hurdle). AHJN teaching artists also have check ins with students to ensure they are on track to complete assignments and assess any barriers to completing work. We also conduct youth listening sessions throughout the year to ensure feedback from our constituency. We assess how effective programming was for each student and identify how we can adjust future programming to be more effective. Evaluation of YLD programs have shown increases in self-confidence, perceived leadership, and creative abilities, as well as trust in key life figures.

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

Direct Impact: 45

Indirect Impact: 200