The Dudley T. Dougherty Foundation

Foster Youth Writing and Education Project

Grant Information
Categories Education
Location United States
Cycle Year 2010
Organization Information
Organization Name (provided by applicant) Youth News Service Los Angeles Bureau
Organization Name (provided by automatic EIN validation)
Contact Information
Contact Name Donna Myrow
Phone (323) 938-9194
5967 W Third St, Ste 301
Los Angeles
Additional Information
Used for Piloted in 2003, The Foster Youth Writing and Education Project brings journalism education to our community’s most at-risk youth. In the process, it not only gives those youth a voice, but it enlightens all stakeholders to their needs and challenges.
Benefits Students need experiential education; teachers need assistance in leading issue discussions; and the public needs to know what’s going on in the hearts and minds of young people. L.A. Youth answers those needs, and few youth-serving programs in the Los Angeles area can make that claim.
Proposal Description Our mission states: L.A. Youth is a leading advocacy voice for teens through journalism, literacy and civic engagement. We use media as a tool for young people to examine themselves, their communities and the world at large.

While the organization engages in a variety of activities that serve the mission, the 28-page newspaper that is published six times per year is the programmatic centerpiece. A core staff of 70 students works on each issue, their efforts ultimately reaching an offline readership estimated at 350,000. Recaptured on our website for our growing cadre of “virtual readers,” L.A. Youth represents the news that area students want to talk about, and that subject matter is never far away from the topics discussed in mainstream, adult media. Over the years, our student staff has explored public education issues, political processes, mental health challenges, juvenile justice policies, social mores and concerns, and topics relating to nutrition and physical health. They also have reviewed movies, music, books, and restaurants, and they’ve learned and displayed the power of editorial photography and cartooning.

The adult staff of L.A. Youth and the professional journalists who serve the program as mentors work closely with student staff members to facilitate the process of publishing a state-of-the-art newspaper. This one-on-one guidance helps participants gain critical skills that will serve them throughout their lives. In addition to the literacy skills developed by virtue of writing and editing a newspaper article, student staff members learn how to:

• conduct in-depth research
• work with a team
• conduct interviews
• meet deadlines
• fact-check
• engage in critical thinking
• respect diversity
• use technology

Both in print and on the web, L.A. Youth is much more than simply a youth media project that promotes journalism skills. It is a tool for educators, a resource for the community, and an advocacy vehicle. More than 1,100 middle and high school teachers subscribe to the newspaper, and they regularly use the lesson plans that we post on our website. Community agencies throughout Los Angeles also look forward to their copies of the newspaper, and over the years, an increasing number of appointed and elected officials have come to appreciate the candid information that L.A. Youth provides.

Among our greatest strengths is our demonstrated capacity to bridge the gaps between youth who are considered “marginalized” and those who are viewed as “mainstream.” Beginning in 2003, when we piloted the Foster Youth Writing and Education Project, it became increasingly clear that the participating students from the foster care system were hungry for an opportunity to share their visceral accounts of painful childhood and adolescent experiences. As they revealed their challenges, particularly with mental health issues, the youth in the “mainstream” felt freer about sharing their more personal challenges. The ensuing journalism – along with a mental health survey the organization conducted to accompany the newspaper’s content – removed the stigmas that are too often associated with mental health issues, and as community stakeholders and decision-makers took notice, L.A. Youth proved once again to be a source of important, policy-oriented news.

Now fully integrated into our core programming, the Foster Youth Writing and Education Project has engaged more than 150 foster youth recruited through our well-established partnerships with more than 12 area agencies. Among current student staff members are 15 foster youth, who have emancipated from the system. (While L.A. Youth has not historically included student staff members once they’ve graduated from high school, our decision to open the project to foster youth up to the age of 21 reflects the acute needs these youth face after emancipating from the system. This decision also reflects our position as an advocate. We strive to promote policy changes that will extend public benefits to emancipating foster youth.)

Having administered this project for seven years, and having benefited in 2009 from a formal evaluation conducted by the Evaluation and Training Institute, we know what outcomes to expect for the youth who participate. Anecdotal information shared by representatives of partnering agencies who serve foster youth corroborate our expectations. As a result of their participation on the student staff of L.A. Youth, foster youth demonstrate improved academic skills, improved job-preparation skills, and increased self-esteem.

L.A. Youth’s success in securing new partners is particularly urgent this year. At the end of 2009, we were awarded a two-year, $100,000 grant from the Challenge Fund for Journalism (CJF), which is a joint initiative of the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the McCormick Foundation. These philanthropic leaders are committed to our work, but they also recognize the essential nature of diversifying fundraising sources in order to guarantee organizational sustainability. For this reason, they designed the Challenge Fund specifically to support and inspire revenue generation among their grantees. The dollars we raise from new funders will leverage their dollars, which, in turn, will enable us to develop solid strategies for future growth. Given the economic challenges that we all currently face, it is critical that we take full advantage of this rare opportunity to double our funding requests.