Fiscal Year 2014 Program Report

Youth Spirit Artworks

October 1, 2015

Who We Serve

In FY14, Youth Spirit Artworks supported 144 youth through job training.

The majority of our youth were between the ages of 14 to 17. This is because Berkeley high school is a major partner of YSA and refers many youth each month.  The next largest grouScreen Shot 2015-10-01 at 11.12.09 AMp is aged 18 to 24 (36%). Most of these youth hear about us from friends. Others come from YEAH, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, and Youth Works. Only 5 percent of our youth are age 25 or higher. Most of these individuals have aged into adulthood while in our program.

YSA’s focus is to support youth in poverty through the use of art as a mechanism to learn business, personal and developmental life skills. Figure A. shows the Poverty scale used in our program.

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Over three quarters of our youth live in ‘poverty’ or have ‘extremely low’ to ‘low’ incomes. This percentage is actually lower than in past years because YSA began a partnership with Alacosta. Alacosta sends BUSD youth with cognitive disabilities to receive jScreen Shot 2015-10-01 at 11.12.39 AMob training.  Even though these youth come from families with more income than our typical participant, they factor into our target demographic. In 2012, the poverty rate for Americans aged 18 to 64 living with a disability was 28.4% (4.3 million) compared to 12.5% (22 million) Americans aged 18 to 64 who did not have a disability [2]. So while low income is a requirement for our program, we also try to support youth at risk of moving into poverty by looking at longer-term contexts.

YSA primarily serves youth who reside in Berkeley and are an under-represented segment of the population. Seventy eight percent of our youth live, work, or go to school in Berkeley and over 60% live in poverty. This compares with a 20.5% rate for Berkeley residents as a whole. (See Appendix for Berkeley Poverty Charts).

Berkeley residents in poverty tend to be young men or persons of color [3]. Over a quarter of our youth are males and nearly 40% are African Americans. American Indians and Asians are another underrepresented racial groupScreen Shot 2015-10-01 at 11.12.47 AM in Berkeley and compose the highest percentage of poor residents [3]. In contrast, these groups make up 15% and 43% of YSA’s community respectively. The YSA community is highly diverse and unique in that they are Berkeley residents who are often viewed as being the minority, but, at YSA, are among the majority.

About 50% of our youth are homeless. ‘Homeless’ is a complicated state to define because its definition can change over time, and the government recognizes different definitions. Only 10% of our youth are literally living on the street. The vast majority are students in transitional living situations (22%). TheseScreen Shot 2015-10-01 at 11.12.55 AM youth double up with family members, live in vehicles or motels, and generally have unstable environments. Our participants can alternate between staying in shelters or a family members apartment. In most cases our youth are accompanied by other adults. They regularly stay with at least one member family member/guardian. Only four percent of our youth are independent, living in permanent supportive housing. Homelessness can look very different among our youth.

What We Do

A big part of what YSA does is motivate youth to continue through hard times by offering support, stress-management and opportunities for critical thinking. YSA relies on interpersonal relationships to scaffold, or support youth in reaching a new higher level of functioning. Our youth have different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds as well as cognitive ability; but everyone participates equally in the program. As a result, the youth tend to undergo changes in soft skills, such as cultural attitudes, sense of autonomy, empowerment, resiliency, and hope, more often than hard skills such as painting skills that would allow them to become an ‘artist.’

YSA is less focused on molding youth into a specific identity than getting them to question fixed notions of self so they can have a flexible mind frame. For instance, a lot of youth, who never saw themselves as artists, need to reconsider their identities while making studio art in our program. More importantly, the youth learn to question the process by which people acquire skills, which allow them to associate with certain career paths, types of people, and branches of spirituality. They learn how to work among a philosophically diverse group of individuals.

Many late adolescents and early adults are exploring issues such as autonomy from parents, gender identity, internalized morality, career choice, intimate relationships, work and personal lifestyles. YSA provides them unique-interpersonal relationships, outside of their normal friend groups, school cliques or family, which support the discovery of their strengths, interests and values. We provide the atmosphere for a more strategic contemplation of how they can change when they feel stuck developing a plan for growing up. Our model really deals with common psychosocial crises for this 18-24 age group; individual identity versus identity confusion and/or intimacy versus isolation.[1]

In the studio, they experiment with different roles and developing mutuality among peers. The outcomes we seek are fidelity to values and love. When the youth learn to express these values in the space, they are better able to abstain from alcohol/drug use, reduce their absenteeism, and remain in school. Our jobs training model is highly unique in its attention to this psychosocial development. New interpersonal relationships can change a youth’s self-awareness and values. More important are the long term outcomes, such as career paths, now ‘self-determined’ by the youth.

The Outcomes

We use interviews to identify how are youth are changing. Over Spring and Summer 2014, staff asked about 40 youth open ended questions about their willingness to try something that did not work the first time, their ability to manage stress, and quality of their relationships. Four themes emerged from these interviews: (1) our youth felt highly motivated to direct their future; (2) our youth felt a sense of escape from stress at YSA; (3) our youth felt highly supported in 1×1 relationships with staff and in friend groups at YSA; (4) our youth found the independence at YSA constructive to their learning process and critical thinking.

Youth 1 Just knowing that I am confident in my abilities. I said to myself I can overcome any situation. I have become more confident in my artwork. It’s helped me outside of YSA too. In situations when people don’t like you, being in YSA where people accept me for who I am, it helps me write off those other people. It’s validation.
Youth 2 I feel optimistic. I really think this will help me in the long run. Having lots of comments on my artwork will help me prepare myself who might not like it. They might judge it or want to change it. By hearing that now, I’m getting prepared for the future. When I graduate I want to do video game design and computer engineering.
Youth 3 I’m optimistic. There is always a new canvas. There is always new ideas and new ways of expressing myself, even if I don’t like the situation I’m in. If I want a better situation I can paint it. Professionally, I want to be a high school counselor.
Youth 4 You got to think positive, and you can do whatever you want. As long as your minds into it, you can do whatever you want. You got to be positive and not negative. Two years ago, I had to talk white to keep a job. I thought it was wrong, but it got me money.
Youth 5 My first week, I am not the best artist. I’m more of a computer kind of guy. I can’t draw a person. Being here. Failing to create art I wanted to make. Victor kept telling me to try again. I gained confidence in myself. Even if the art didn’t come out the way I wanted, it was different than everybody else’s.
Youth 6 In the past, I used to be a mess. If you said something about me, I was a mess. When I was younger, it was cool to cuss people out, because I was in. Back then, it was horrible. I would get mad if people said mean things about Beyonce. I learned to not respond. I’m way better than I was.
Youth 7 I believe in myself that I can last through a program and actually finish something. I want to fulfill my potential. Actually, keeping a job is hard. For me, not losing interest is hard. I try to do something new everyday so this does not happen.
Youth 8 I think my future is going to be good. I want to have a job, a family, and make a lot of money. My goal is to be a midwife or a nurse. I think YSA has prepared me for that by giving me patience. When you’re doing art, it doesn’t come out fast. You have to take your time. Art has helped my mind to see reality.

The quotes, demonstrated in this sampling, show most youth have started to form an idea of what they want to be. Some professions mentioned make more money than others. This is notable since a lot of youth are coming from homes of poverty. The quotes also suggest a better understanding of who they are and what they enjoy as factors in goal setting. The youth explicitly note how values and emotional intelligence gained from working with others will help their future. Whether it has been learning patience, trying something they are not good at, responding to feedback, understanding racial and professional identity or leaning to be self-confident versus overly concerned with others opinions, our youth show are becoming more individualistic, social-minded, and motivated to pursue career paths which they love.

Youth 1 I have learned to manage my stress by concentrating all my energy on painting. If you’re doing a painting with a lot of details, you get really focused, and you forget about everything else. The tension goes away.
Youth 2 I feel able to express my emotions constructively here. If you talk, people listen to you. It feels good.
Youth 3 I haven’t had a hard time at YSA. It’s relieved a lot of stress for me. I have been able to come here and have an outlet so I can be less stressed when I go home.
Youth 4 I don’t think I have really had a hard time because it’s taken a hard time off of me. I have a lot of school pressure: am I going to graduate? Also at home… your parents ask, “why do you have an F in this class?” It’s not financial stress, it’s more that kind of stress. YSA clears my mind.
Youth 5 I haven’t been stressed at YSA. At home, I’m stressed. I’m more comfortable at YSA than home. My mom bickers. YSA is a clear space for me.
Youth 6 This program has made it so I can get all my stress onto a canvas. I can put it out visually in an artistic way. Most of my stress is gone after being here two and a half hours or so. It comes naturally.
Youth 7 I feel able to put whatever I’m feeling on paper. I can be me creatively. I’ve been, I did a couple more drawings about freedom. I had the freedom to be with someone who cares and understands you.
Youth 8 One way that YSA has helped me directly is giving me a place to vent when I was very aggressive. It was a way to calm down and think of a better way to handle myself.

YSA is a home away from home for many youth. They report feeling more at ease at YSA than at home. Art has helped many feel more like themselves and in touch with their emotions. The studio work offers a constructive outlet for becoming more aware of anger, sadness, and negative emotions. The quotes support the idea that youth can self-reflect and form values when they have the space to process how thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are affecting their life. It also demonstrates how these same youth are learning coping skills for dealing with life. At YSA they are learning mindfulness and using attention to detail as distraction.. With these tools they can then better avoid ‘what ifs’, ‘catastrophizing school or home problems’, and ‘reacting blindly to strong emotions’.

Youth 1 I never felt bad about my future. I always felt good because people gave me compliments. The people who inspire me give me good feedback. They say you can fix this or that.
Youth 2 I feel more positive about my future since coming to YSA, because it helps you connect with friends.
Youth 3 Well, I just have one question. What do they help out with? It’s not paintings. It seems more like life problems. I guess Danielle, I like how she had me sit down with her and set some goals about how I could get better at art and life goals, like what school I want to go to. I want to go to Stanford, Cal Arts, SF Art academy.
Youth 4 I have always felt optimistic about my future. Especially being here with Victor, he’s built on my ideas and given me determination to never stop. I have a lot of things I’d love to do. My dream is to be the next Bill Gates. Sometimes that’s not realistic. Just being a game designer. Getting into computer sciences. Being able to transfer my art into computer design. Doing blueprints for technology.
Youth 5 Being here helped me to gain trust and gain family. I learned to be there for everyone.
Youth 6 The leadership team is a bunch of kids that are the spitting image of YSA. Just devoted to train me and the others. It makes me feel confident. They really want to do their job. The fact that they come here everyday and want me to succeed. Yeah.
Youth 7 I feel able to speak up for myself because the people here, the environment, the community is really friendly. When you ask for help, it’s always given.
Youth 8 YSA is open, caring and loving. I feel more safe here than at home. It happened the longer I stayed. When I got here, I didn’ t know anyone. Everyone was a painter. I’m not a painter. I needed to stay longer. I’m glad or I would have missed out.

The youth report feeling like the YSA community is a second family. The staff support the youth in their ideas, advocating the youth can achieve whatever they set their mind to. Because there is trust, there is also some reality checking. One youth says he wants to be the next Bill Gates but recognizes taking the steps to become a computer programmer is what will make that realistic. The quotes also show youth are referencing themselves to others who are different from them. One youth acknowledged feeling nervous that he was different from others; he was not a painter. However, by sticking with a community that he was not sure he fit into at first, he gained a family. This type of experience, learning that you can be accepted by anyone, greatly informs the youth sense of acceptance in society. It is a stepping stone to making them believe they can also contribute to society.

Critical Thinking
Youth 1 There’s a lot of independence so you need to learn what to do on your own.
Youth 2 When you get frustrated and angry, step back, and then come back to it. You don’t want to step away too long(…). You need to be diligent and come back to it. Especially with homework.(…) If you’re stressing out, your brain blocks the solution. If you step away your brain opens back up, and your in a position to hit the problem hard.”
Youth 3 I try to address (problems) the most professional way I can. I do it pretty good. I’m proud of myself on that. I think about my reaction. Think before you speak.
Youth 4 When I am stuck on a project, I take a little too long. I see other moving along so quickly. Knowing I will get it done, visualizing how I will get it done, helps me to focus. I get it done.
Youth 5 With an art piece, I like that there is a lot of help. You can go to people for ideas and solutions about how to fix your problems. Thinking about it and coming up with solutions.
Youth 6 I have the ability to improve my life. (…) I want to make money and take care of finances.
Youth 7 I tackle a problem head on, discuss how it is, and find a solution. Cleaning up. People don’t want to clean up. You tell them how it is. A supervisor can also help.
Youth 8 Typically, I just ask for help and I got it. I know what I was supposed to be doing. Clarification on directions.

When the youth talked about critical thinking, they often brought up feeling able to ask for help. The youth really respond to working in groups, asking for support or even completing an individual assignment. Because they are among friends, they are comfortable bouncing ideas off one another. Friend groups help youth develop the trust they need to function on a team in school or the workplace. They also learned concrete skills such as how to step away from a project temporarily only to hit the problem harder later. Personal comparisons also came up. It was apparent to them that some youth learned more slowly than others. Understanding that these different paces of learning were normal helped them to accept where they where. Instead of trying to solve a problem as someone else might, they are more confident tackling it as an individual. The youth are reflecting on the values they want to consider as they approach specific work objectives.

Four themes were identified in our interviews: motivation, stress relief, social support, and critical thinking. The youth talked about their values and how these values were influenced by verbalizing their passions and loves amongst others. For some, it was just the choice of how to make art on a given day. For others, it helped define longer term goal paths towards a career. These quotes demonstrate YSA’s mechanism for change. We use interpersonal relationships and the youth’s natural need to figure out their identities as well as establish a sense of belonging. Art facilitates learning awareness, attitudes, opinions, aspirations and motivations which affect the choices related to staying in school and/or pursuing a meaningful career. More importantly, it is the youth of YSA who are directing the change and speaking of hope, empowerment, and resiliency.


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[1] Newman, Barbara, Newman, Philip. (2012). Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach. Belmont, CA USA: Wadsworth

[2] National Center for Law and Economic Justice. (2015). “Poverty in the United States: A SnapShot.” Retrieved from Retrieved from:

[3] City-Data. (2015). “Berkeley, California (CA) Poverty Rate Data.”  Retrieved from: