Written by: Derrick Engoy

To say that my first week teaching Creative Writing to high school students was amazing would be a tremendous understatement!

But using the word “tremendous” would be a perfect start.

Our journey, this semester, will be under the direction of using Creative Writing to help students discover their voice and find ways to articulate what’s on their minds and in their hearts in the midst of the various injustices they find themselves in on a daily basis. Our curriculum, not only will help students find their creative voice, but will also foster better critical thinking skills as we dissect various Spoken Word pieces and classic poetry. The two combined will, ultimately, provide a basis for healthier navigation tools in the face of the “tremendous” challenges these students face in their communities.

From immigration issues to gang violence and from education to bullying, these students have already collectively voiced a tremendous excitement to develop a more healthier alternative to express themselves within the plights they find themselves in.

And, in an effort to better discover their voice, the students’ first writing assignment: Streams of Consciousness.

The students, each day, will begin with 15-minutes of “free flowing” writing. They’re not to think too much about their writing. They’re not to worry about grammar or spelling. They’re not to even think too much about their writing making any kind of sense. Streams of Consciousness writing is simply about allowing your thoughts to flow onto the paper.

When asked how their experience was, many of the students expressed a sense of freedom. They found that Streams of Consciousness was a lot easier than first anticipated. Many of the students didn’t realize they had a ton of ideas to write about.

They felt a sense of release!

Week one is in the books and I’m tremendously looking forward to the next thirteen.





Summer Youth Development Academy (SYDA) 2017 Program Report



Sharefest conducted one four-week SYDA session in 2017 – July 10-August 4 – reaching a total of 224 students:

  • Middle School (Grades 7-8) – 88 students
  • High School (Grades 9-12) – 136 students

Sessions were held from 8am-1pm, Monday-Friday on the campus of California State Dominguez Hills in Carson.

This report summarizes the demographics of the student participants and the program’s impact.




More females than males participated in SYDA (136 Female, 88 Male). Ethnicity of participants is represented by the following:

  • 55% - Latino/Hispanic
  • 27% - Black/African American
  • 9% - Asian
  • 8.5% - White
  • 2% - Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
  • 2% - Other
  • 0.5% - American Indian

The largest group by grade level was the 9th graders, with 60 students, followed by 49 8th graders. 129 (57.5%) of participants were returning, having participated in at least one past summer. 42% of participants received transportation. 62% of program participants qualify for government food assistance, reflective of familial economic vulnerability.




The 2017 Summer YDA: “Agents of Change” included programming designed to explore areas of social justice and a student’s ability to improve the common good through acts of compassion, cooperation, and service projects to create positive change. With opportunities to explore their unique perspective in history, students learned the importance of becoming a person willing to do the hard work of leading by serving others in need through acts of genuine friendship that can shift stereotypes and create sustainable change.

All students participated in weekly swimming and team building.

Weekly movie days provided participants a chance to examine fictional and historical characters who displayed leadership attributes and created transformational social change. Through 42: The Jackie Robinson Story, Zootopia, Hidden Figures, and Beauty and the Beast students witnessed how courage, compassion, critical thinking, cooperation, and commitment produce leaders and progress to adjust harmful sociological circumstances.



Based on the findings from Building Quality Learning Programs: Approaches and Recommendations (McLaughlin and Pitcock, 2009), Middle School students participated in a four-week camp in 2017. Adding additional two weeks aligns with the research supporting that 80 hours or more of programming is needed to experience positive impact.

Core classes for middle school students included Leadership and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Middle school students also participated in daily circuit training to improve physical fitness, goal-setting, and resiliency.

In leadership, the medium of creative writing and spoken word guided students through valuable skills of analysis and reflection on the cultural landscape of social justice and identified ways in which they can become courageous influencers of compassion and cooperation.

A student’s reflection:

"[Our instructor] Derrick taught us to believe in our ideas and to speak out about things that aren’t right."

The STEM Lab, led by Sharefest partner Ourfoods, introduced students to urban gardening as a pathway to change. Students discovered concepts and relevance of gardening in community development as a means of addressing food insecurity and water shortages. Students employed STEM skills in problem-solving and innovating a creation of a community garden.

One student commented on their STEM experience:

"I learned that good food sources are important for communities to be healthy. In STEM Lab, I enjoyed learning about sustainable ways to grow food and I’m excited to grow more foods at home."

Middle school students culminated their learning with a service project at a local site. Led by 12th grade students, middle school students expanded the GRoW Community Garden in Watts. During the 2017 Workday, four sustainable, raised-bed planter boxes and a large-scale aquaponics system were installed on-site. During the SYDA Day of Service, students installed two more boxes, learned how the aquaponics system functions and is maintained, and harvested crops growing in the previously-installed boxes. This garden is fully accessible to and used by many families in the Watts community.

See more of the middle school experience by viewing their recap video.



Improv was the core class for 9th grade leadership. Through improv, students explored topics of social justice while improving their communication skills, critical thinking, confidence, and cooperation skills.

The Study Skills class helped prepare participants with writing skills and mindsets to succeed in their new career as a highschool student.

9th grade students also participated in a service learning project at Harbor Interfaith Services in San Pedro. Students prepared and handed out 140 lunch bags to the homeless and working poor as a part of the #HashtagLunchbag initiative.

Reflecting on the experience, a student said:

"Summer YDA helps get you out of your comfort zone to try new things. It teaches you many life skills for the future."

Leadership thru Advocacy and Study Skills for High School Success were the core classes for 10th-11th Grade students.

In leadership, students explored community concerns and identified one that is of a personal concern to them. They researched solutions and developed a Point of View advocacy presentation to raise awareness for social change. This class culminated in the Voices of Hope advocacy presentation at the Asomugha Foundation. Attended by local government and school officials, business leaders, and parents, each student expressed their concerns and convictions for improving community life.

One student said about her experience:

"I learned my voice really matters."

In Study Skills for High School Success students examined and practiced skills for navigating the academic and social challenges of high school.

A student’s reflection:

"I learned the importance of setting goals and not giving up when things get hard."

Core classes for 12th grade students were Service Learning and Life Skills for College Success.

Seniors culminated their YDA experience by practicing leadership by guiding other camp participants in service projects to benefit the community. First, they led 60 9th grade students through a #HashtagLunchbag event, then the led 90 middle school students through the GRoW Garden expansion. Using a service learning approach, seniors honed their research and project management skills.

A student reflecting on the service projects said:

"My best memory of Summer YDA was seeing how happy the homeless people were when they at the lunches we made for them."

In Life Skills for College Success, incoming seniors examined and practiced skills for navigating the academic and social challenges of college. Students also had the opportunity to learn stress management methods with Abby Withee, LMFT.

One unique feature of the 10-12th grade program is the inclusion of weekly guests who share about their life and leadership experiences with the students. These guests are chosen from a variety of community spheres to demonstrate to the students that leadership can be expressed in business, government, education, and nonprofit ventures.

One student made this comment after a guest’s visit:

"Listening to the guests helped me realize that everyone has a challenge to overcome. That really inspired me."

All 9-12th grade students participated in Move It: a dance class, exploring the history of dance as social change agent and learning various dance techniques. Students worked together to choreograph a creative expression of positive change and performed it in front of their peers on the last day of camp.

See more of the high school experience by viewing their recap video.




At the conclusion of the summer program, all students were given a feedback survey. Students also provided additional written comments, and Sharefest recorded some of the verbal reports at the student culmination celebrations. Italics indicate student quotes. Some students provided multiple responses to some questions.


Middle School – Favorite Part of the Program:

20% of respondents indicated swimming was their favorite part of Summer YDA. An additional 20% indicated making new friends was their favorite part of Summer YDA. Followed next by 18% of respondents listing leadership as their favorite.

Some quotes regarding these favorite activities:

"I learned to speak up for the things I believe in."

"We learned so much about the need to be who we are and to be confident."


9th Grade – Favorite Part of the Program:

26% of respondents indicated team building and swimming were their favorite parts of Summer YDA. Followed next by 21% indicating that Improv/Leadership was their favorite.

Some quotes regarding these favorite activities:

“Improv class helped me feel more comfortable talking in front of others.”

“Summer YDA has helped me become a better leader and also to let my words be heard.”


10-11th Grade – Favorite Part of the Program:

32% of respondents indicated teambuilding (or dodgeball) was their favorite part of Summer YDA. 40% of participants said that the POV presentation was their best memory of YDA.

A student reflected:

"Speaking at the Asomugha Foundation helped me know that my ideas are important. People listened to what I had to say! I need to keep speaking up for things to change."


12th Grade – Favorite Part of the Program:

25% of respondents indicated conducting the service projects were their favorite part of Summer YDA. An additional 25% indicated dance was their favorite part.


Room for Program Improvement:

29% of respondents said YDA would be improved with different lunch options. An additional 29% of respondents said YDA would be improved with more swimming. 35% of Middle School respondents desired more experiments and interaction in the STEM Lab. An additional 16% would like to see more athletics.

Student testimonials from the last day of camp expressed social, emotional, academic, and leadership growth.




Post programming surveys evaluated the impact of the students’ YDA experience.

Middle School students assessed themselves in the following:

  • 75% agreed they have skills that are helpful for improving the lives of others
  • 73% view themselves as leaders
  • 87% enjoy doing service projects to help others
  • 72% believe they have opportunities to help change things for their communities
  • 96% believe Sharefest staff are good role models
  • 89% report learning a new skill at YDA
  • 97% report making new friends at YDA
  • 96% believe YDA challenged them to think in new ways
  • 89% report learning specific ways to be an agent of change in their community

High School students assessed themselves in the following way:

  • 95% think of themselves as good students
  • 100% plan to graduate from high school
  • 97% plan to graduate from college
  • 74% feel involved in the decisions made in their community
  • 92% feel their Sharefest Summer YDA experience makes them more excited about learning
  • 97% feel Sharefest Summer YDA gives them a better understanding of how skills learned in school are used in the real world
  • 92% attend Summer YDA because it helps them achieve personal goals

One student commented:

"I love Summer YDA so much. It keeps this light in me every year and it makes me want to learn more."


Parents completing post-programming surveys provided the following feedback:

"Mom, why can't school be like YDA? Where kids come behave and want to learn. Mom have you ever heard of Aquaponics? Mom, let me tell you about the Gangster Gardener? Mom, do you know about the Laundry mat that allows people to wash their clothes for free." Whenever my son gets in the car he has something to tell me about his day at YDA...most times without me asking. He has declared that it is the best camp he has experienced and wants to continue through high school. His swimming skills have improved. He is learning, without feeling like it's a burden. He was very nervous about coming since this would be the first camp without any of his 3 siblings also attending. He thanks me every week for finding YDA. He has developed friendships with his peers and respect for the team in charge. Thanks for all you have done to help nurture his leadership skills and love for learning."

"[My son] is much more confident in what he says and believes. I'm very proud."

"My child was not expecting to like YDA, however, that changed the first day."

"They enjoyed every bit of it, gained more confidence in public speaking, team building and service to others."

"It is an absolute empowering program. It's fun, educational and teaches so many different life lessons."






2017 Summer YDA: Agents of Change Student Testimonials


King (8th Grade): "YDA is the best camp I’ve ever been to in my life. It’s helped me socially because I have problems with getting friends at school. At YDA I have a lot of friends and at my school I don’t really have many friends. YDA is a great place that’s taught me many things and it has changed me.YDA impacted me the most with courage. When I was at school I was a very shy person and wasn’t very good at making friends. Now that I’m at YDA it’s helped me to become a more courageous person and I’ve made a lot of friends here."

Jaylen (7th Grade, Environmental Charter Middle School): "YDA impacted my life because I would never have spoke in public but thanks to Derrick he gave me the courage to come up here. YDA impacted my life because if i wasn’t here I would have been at my house doing whatever I want, but I came here and met new people. I’m usually shy and keep to myself. I want to thank all the staff for taking the time to take care of us, showing us how to be ourselves, and to believe in ourselves. Although I don’t know everyone, I love you all."

Miranda (7th Grade, Dodson Middle School): "YDA has been really impactful in my life. I’d probably be sitting on my couch watching movies all day if it wasn’t for YDA. I’ve made so many friends here and I’ve learned so much about exercise and team building."

Marissa (12th Grade, San Pedro High School): "If you feel lost or you don’t have friends or you feel really alone, Sharefest is something that can help you. With all the difficult things in high school, when I come here I don’t have to deal with any of that. If you feel like High School isn’t a place for you, Sharefest will be like home."

Sabino (12th Grade, Narbonne High School): "I’m willing to go to college, I’m willing to take as long as it takes to get into the Police Academy because my dream is to become in Criminal Justice as a detective. Everyone here has their own dreams; follow them and don’t give up."

Ti’lar (12th Grade, Torrance High School): "Sharefest has taught me so much, I think that it’s wonderful that you’re here and willing to learn and grow from your experience. Everyone struggles and it’s okay."

Adrian (12th Grade, Narbonne High School): "Every year Sharefest has given me a light so I can keep pushing forward. Now I just want to say that Sharefest changed me dramatically. If it wasn’t for Sharefest, I don’t know where I would be."





2017 Summer YDA: Agents of Change Give Back to Their Community


July 20, 2017: HashtagLunchBag

Incoming 7th, 8th, 9th, and 12th grade students enrolled in the 2017 Summer Youth Development Academy (S-YDA) program participated in two day of service events as a part of the STEM, leadership, and service learning curriculums. Each day of service was a vehicle for students to practice the skills developed in their S-YDA courses by giving back to their surrounding community. The two dates allowed approximately 150 students (combined) to participate in projects that addressed the identified issue of hunger by directly providing food for those in need.

The 7th and 8th grade students learned about STEM through aquaponics, urban farming, and the importance of food sustainability. The 9th grade students developed leadership skills by building confidence within themselves and compassion for others through “improv.” The 12th grade students practiced leadership by acting upon their service learning curriculum and leading the younger students through each service project.

The first day of service was modeled after the initiative #HashtagLunchbag, aimed at “Empowering humanity to create & benefit from organized acts of love.” A #HashtagLunchbag event involves putting together a lunch bag for homeless or disadvantaged persons, inclusive of a meal, kind, hand-written note of encouragement, and the opportunity for both parties to meet and connect face-to-face.

15 12th grade students led 60 9th graders in making 140 lunches consisting of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, fruit cup, bag of chips, and a water bottle. The lunch bags were completed with the addition of multiple handwritten notes of encouragement and delivered to Harbor Interfaith Services in San Pedro, an organization that provides meals, therapy sessions, and housing to the homeless and working poor. Students handed out the lunch bags to the clients for an hour and a half before returning to camp. It was so meaningful that #HashTagLunchBag wrote about it IN THEIR BLOG.

The monetary value of this service project was approximately $2,000.



August 1, 2017: GRoW Garden Expansion

The second day of service was tailored to the STEM curriculum with partner Ourfoods. 15 12th grade students led the middle school students through the construction of four “desktop model” aquaponics systems and directed them through the offsite service project. 80 7th and 8th grade students traveled with the 12th graders to the Watts Century Latino Organization to expand upon the GRoW Community Garden, a project completed during the 2017 Sharefest Workday. During the Workday, four sustainable, raised-bed planter boxes and a large-scale aquaponics system were installed. During the day of service, students installed two more boxes, learned how the aquaponics system functions and is maintained, and harvested crops growing in the previously-installed boxes. This garden is fully accessible to and used by many families in the Watts community.

The monetary value of this service project was approximately $8,600.

Sharefest is proud to preparing students through hands-on service projects to be a vital source of their community’s growth and betterment.





2017 Summer YDA: Agents of Change Learn Sustainable Farming


86 middle school students participating in the Summer Youth Development Academy (S-YDA) at California State University Dominguez Hills honed their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills through four weeks of learning about sustainable urban farming. Daily, 40-minute classes guided students through a discovery process of how plants grow and ways science and technology can improve food sustainably. Their learning culminated in a “give back” service project in which they put their new agricultural knowledge to work by installing two new garden beds at the Watts GRoW Garden in Watts.

Access to healthy foods has become a hotspot of community need. Learning to plant a sustainable garden tangibly impacts health, economics, and ecology. Communities with access to innovative gardening techniques experience resilience and renewal, leading to improved quality of life. Introducing middle students to concepts like aquaponics and hydroponics prepares them to not only be better prepared for academic success, but also to be a resource to their own community’s brightest future.

In partnership with Ourfoods, a local non-profit social enterprise, dedicated to urban agriculture education, training, and jobs, S-YDA students received valuable education with tangible applications. Led by their instructor Natalie Kra, a Ourfoods employee and recent USC graduate, students explored soil quality, water conservation, and technologies for growing healthy foods anywhere. Most importantly, students learned about the power of food and how it can transform communities.

This class is a good example of how Sharefest is working to prepare youth to lead positive change in their communities and expose them to inspiring college and career opportunities.

Sharefest wishes to extend a special thank you to Ourfoods for sharing a vibrant vision for the future of our local communities and partnering to revitalize hope and flourishing.