Holiday Spirit

Carolyn Digovich, founder of Youth Speaks Out, sits in front of photographs and paintings produced by students in the art-focused program that provides students space to express themselves. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted January 5, 2018

Giving youth a voice
Nonprofit encourages students to express their inner lives, in good company

by Fiona Kelliher

In slam poetry, the hands speak as much as the mouth. As Crystal Trevillion stood in front of a crowd of students and families in Palo Alto Art Center, her hands moved between her head and stomach, at one point beating the air in a curled fist. Trevillion had just returned to Gunn High School after months of leukemia treatment, and her poem painted pictures of what it felt like to be bald, surrounded by machines and desperate to breathe outside a hospital room.

Audience members cried. Random strangers came up to hug her. For the first time, Trevillion said, people began sharing their own family's cancer stories with her.

"What you write — other people relate to," she said. "It's also good for me because I'm like, 'Oh, I'm not alone.'"

Trevillion performed her slam poem at a 2015 grand gallery opening for Youth Speaks Out (YSO), a program that has operated at Gunn and Palo Alto High School since 2011. Originally born as a response to the local teen suicide clusters, YSO offers avenues for students to express their inner lives and build communities through art.

The nonprofit works with teachers to create a safe and inclusive environment, build curricula for specific projects and host artists within semester-long classes. Participating "YSO classes" — which remain within the PAUSD system while interfacing with the organization — have included photography, painting, ceramics, journalism and creative writing, among others. YSO also collaborates with after-school clubs such as the Black Scholars Union and Gunn Poetry Slam Club, and all programming aims to foster real vulnerability, Executive Director Carolyn Digovich said.

In the past, this has meant supporting students as they've voiced their stress and the pain caused by turmoil in the community. While these themes are still important, Digovich said that YSO is making a concerted effort to include people who aren't always heard from, in particular students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students.

And students like Trevillion, whose experiences may be unique in myriad ways.

"We really don't hear the voice of our student body if we don't have all the voices involved and engaged," Digovich said. "Those voices have been critical in helping us understand what students' lives are about."

YSO was one of just two organizations to receive $20,000 from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund this year. The backing has supported programming that aims, in part, to deepen YSO's roots in minority communities and continue partnerships from past years. Marshall Jones, a slam poet from Los Angeles who collaborated with Trevillion's class, will return this year to facilitate workshops; in the spring, a local organization called Outlet that supports LGBTQ youth will also engage students. This will mark YSO's third year collaborating with the mental health group Youth Minds Advocacy, which has previously hosted student art showcases in San Francisco.

Student groups representing different communities have taken an active role in shaping the program. One developing project idea is the "Soul Collage" that the Black Scholars Union at Paly will create with the help of a visiting artist this year. Within the school's social-justice-pathway courses, students will produce photo essays, digital art and other materials to form a larger "quilt" of reflections — and ultimately portray both the individual and the collective experience.

Alvaro Panitz, a 2015 Gunn graduate, said that exposure to other students' difficulties and dreams made him feel more comfortable discussing his own. Panitz moved to California from Peru in high school, leaving behind both his parents. His grandfather, who had primarily raised him, died about a year before he arrived at Gunn.

Back home, Panitz had written poems in his native Spanish about anything that struck his fancy — love, friendship, stories from friends, heartbreak. But while involved in YSO, he found himself writing about his grandfather and remembering moments they had shared years earlier.

"He was basically my father," Panitz said. "I miss him a lot, and so I decided to write about him because I feel like he's taught me so much."

According to Digovich, some art like Panitz's and Trevillion's creates a meaningful "counterpoint" to the themes of academic stress and grades that may otherwise dominate the classrooms. She recalled one student's photograph that showed his father's hands holding his own class picture from elementary school. X's were drawn over the faces of each child who had since died. More than half the faces were marked.

"The way it was discussed by the student was just ... 'This is a way of life,'" Digovich said. "'This is a reality that my family has dealt with, and people continue to deal with in our community.'"

As the program heads into its seventh year, its leaders are focused on long-term partnerships and resource management. While most YSO projects have been planned, implemented and finished within a school semester, the organization is now slowing down to solidify relationships and listen closely to students' needs, Digovich said. The largely volunteer-run nonprofit will also seek a donation or grant matching the Weekly's to hire staff.

Memories from YSO have stuck with Trevillion, who now attends De Anza College. Even now, she sometimes goes back to watch the video of her own performance. It rekindles how she felt in that moment — comfortable, open, surrounded by the community and by other students' art.

"I'm really glad I did it when I did," she said.

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2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000

* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

43 Anonymous135,210
Linda Selden700
Elliot Stein100
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Judith Steiner150
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Carolyn Williams200
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Bill Johnson & Terri Lobdell2,000
Jody Maxmin*
Angelo Family Foundation5,000
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Katherine and Dorsey Bass200
Patrick Burt500
Ruby Zefo500
Carli Scott100
David Kalkbrenner*
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Brigid Barton & Rob Robinson1,000
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Nancy Rossen150
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Becky & Ted Baer250
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Ron & Melanie Wilensky500
Ralph Wheeler300
Nancy & Jim Baer*
Anne & Don Vermeil*
Joan Norton*
Katherine Bryant*
Daniel & Janis Tuerk*
Tom & Nancy Fiene100
Beth & Peter Rosenthal*
Chris & Beth Martin*
Nancy Tuck2,000
Diane & David Feldman750
Christina Kenrick2,500
Penelope Barrett100
Steve and Noel Beitler150
Diane and Brandy Sikic450
Susan Levenberg180
Elizabeth Weingarten50
Joan Regalado100
Susan Kaye200
Barbara Kinsey400
Susan Thomas500
David Hoexter100
Susan Elgee500
Romola Georgia*
Katherine Jarvis250
Catherine Ballantyne*
Bonnie Berg500
Nancy Moss250
Mr. and Mrs. John J. McLaughlin100
Dr. Teresa L. Roberts1,000
Sally Hewlett Fund1,000
Peter B. Giles250
Kay Sabin*
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Gwen Barry*
Susan Yee*
Jean MacDonel200
The UMOC Charitable Fund250,000
Gavin & Tricia Christensen*
Jeremy Platt & Sandra Murphy300
Loni Freeman & Stephen Monismith*
Werner Graf2,000
Kim Harvey2,000
Feinstein Family1,000
Phil Fernandez & Daniel Sternbergh*
Virginia & Jim Fruchterman250
Karen Backer500
Christina Holt250
Peak-Filseth Charitable Fund500
Curt & Margaret Weil1,000
Wachtel Family1,000
Mary Lemmon25,000
Eric Keller & Janice Bohman500
Fran Codispoti250
Deborah Williams & Jean Luc Laminette1,000
Brennan Family500
Herbert Fischgrund100
Claire & Ed Lauing250
John & Martha McLaughlin200
Rob Colley & Kate Godfrey*
Glenda & Gordon Hughes*
In Memory Of

Kaye Kelley and Richard Van Dusen500
Don Kenyon50
Lew Silvers*
Larry Breed*
Er-Ying and YC Yen250
Jim and Dottie Mellberg250
E. Yanosh Alt20
Millie Rose Coldenhoff100
Edward & Elizabeth Buurma*
Leonard Ely500
Boyd Paulson Jr.*
Phillip Zschokke100
Mary Floyd*
Carol Berkowitz*
Pam Grady250
Lily & Phillip Gottheiner*
Kathy Morris*
August King*
Duncan Matteson1,000
David Mitchell*
Mason & Ryan*
Ian Halliday*
Ted Linden300
Florence K. Ho2,500
Mae & Al Kenrick500
Ray Bacchetti300
Marilyn D. Hansen200
Catherine Chow*
Emmett Lorey*
Betty Meltzer30
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Nancy & Robert Lobdell*
Bob Kirkwood*
Gary Fazzino200
Don & Marie Snow*
Dr. Richard Greene200
Robert O. Jack500
Ruth C. Satterthwaite*
Jack Sutorius500
The Tinney Family250
Hannah & Helen Peterson50
Beverly Aarts*
Thomas W. & Louise L. Phinney*
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach*
Tom Nolan Esq.100
Bob Merkevitch*
Bob Donald300
In Honor Of

Ada's Cafe*
Mandy Lowell*
Billee Werby100
Jill & Brian Bicknell*
Marilyn Sutorius500
Emma & Rich Pompetti500
As a Gift for

Dr. Ned Lund100
Street Cleaners100
Logan Marsh & Gabby Perez2,500
Businesses & Organizations

Packard Foundation25,000
Hewlett Foundation25,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Perry Foundation 10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run36,900
Sponsors of Moonlight Run:
  Stanford Health Care10,000
  Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation5,000
  Sutter Health/
Palo Alto Medical Foundation5,000
  Wealth Architects5,000
  Facebook5,000
  Deleon Realty5,000
  Kaiser Permanete5,000
  Stanford Federal Credit Union5,000
  Lakin Spears2,000
  Bank of the West1,500
Bleibler Properties LLC500
deLemos Properties LLC200
Johnson & Johnson Foundation1,000

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000