Year-Round Youth Development Academy Expands to Watts

Sharefest is pleased to announce a third site for the year-round Youth Development Academy program—Simon Rodia Continuation School in Watts. Beginning in January, Sharefest will offer after-school programming at Simon Rodia with a goal of increasing retention and graduation rates, as well as improving test scores.

Currently, students at Simon Rodia are heavily impacted by crime, violence, poverty, and lack of economic opportunity in Watts. This, combined with minimal supplemental program options and a lack of resources and support, not to mention the lowest attendance rate among all 54 Educational Option schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, creates a significant challenge for administrators and teachers as they try to break the cycle and make a difference in these students lives. Principal Gina Awtry is determined to change that, beginning with partnering with Sharefest to provide additional opportunities for students through the Youth Development Academy.

“[The YDA program] has blossomed into an exceptional model of proven success that has assisted hundred of at-risk teens in meeting requirements to earn a high school diploma,” said Awtry, referring to the existing year-round YDA programs at Avalon Continuation High School in Wilmington, and Patton High School in Harbor City. “But just as important, the Sharefest staff has provided mentoring through their volunteers to help students establish relationships, build trust and resiliency, and to persevere, all important life skills that will hopefully be payed forward as our students enter adulthood and become productive citizens.”

The expansion of the YDA program is possible thanks to our partners, who generously donate to help Sharefest provide this essential programming at continuation schools like Simon Rodia, which meet an important need in education by fostering a small-school learning environment for students who have fallen behind or don’t fit into a traditional learning environment. These schools typically run on fewer resources and program options, and seek creative ways—like the Youth Development Academy—to help students meet graduation requirements.

“These youth are our future, and we are thrilled to partner with Simon Rodia to assist in preparing their students to be successful in school and in life,” said Chad Mayer, Sharefest Executive Director. “This program joins our existing programs at Avalon Continuation and Patton high schools, where we have already seen tremendous results in improved attendance and test scores as a result of the YDA program.”

“I know Sharefest can and will make a significant impact in my students’ lives; attendance will improve, relationships will form, and academic success will be achieved,” said Awtry.


Modeling Leadership Through Service at the Toberman Neighborhood Center

During this summer’s Youth Development Academy, students learned about leadership through service and turned that learning into action during two service days at the Toberman Neighborhood Center. This center provides opportunities and services to help encourage, inform, educate, and empower Harbor-area families and individuals. More than 200 YDA students helped beautify the campus over the course of two service days. From cleaning rooms and sorting donated books to painting benches, tables, and wall murals, the students worked hard and gained an appreciation for giving back to their communities.

“I learned that by just giving back to your community you can change a person’s life.”

– Stephanie, YDA student

“We are so thrilled for the support! The murals are fantastic, the campus is sparkling, and we are on Cloud 9!”

– Carter Calhoun, Director of Development, Toberman Neighborhood Center

A special thanks to community artists PeQue, Rondell Puckett, Patrick Q. "Sequel" Brown, Kelsey "True" Milliner, and Alexis "Princess" Evangelista Griffen for designing the beautiful murals and guiding students in the painting process.

View photos of the work completed below!






Summer YDA Comes to an End

The Summer Youth Development Academy ended on a high note as students finished a final week filled with fun activities and special moments. Middle school students continued to build relationships with each other and their counselors as they participated in activities from art class to swimming. They also spent a day giving back to the community by serving at the Toberman Neighborhood Center. For high school students, the week’s highlights included a trip to Los Angeles City Hall where they toured offices, interviewed staff, and met with Councilman Joe Buscaino. The week wrapped with an awards ceremony celebrating the many achievements of these incredible students!


Hattie Harrison from the Alcoa Foundation visits YDA and views video interviews the high school students have produced.


High school students tour City Hall with Branimir Kvartuc and get a behind-the-scenes at the work of the Los Angeles City Council.


The high school students put their interview skills to work at City Hall.


Students meet with Councilman Joe Buscano.


Students and counselors are ready for a day of service at the Toberman Neighborhood Center.


A middle school student adds a fresh coat of paint to a bench.


Students work together sorting donated books for the center.


Students took time to write inspirational notes for youth at the Toberman Neighborhood Center.


Students take a pause from their hard work for lunch provided by Chick-fil-A.


A student thanks her counselor with this fun drawing.


Students receive awards on the last day of YDA.


The amazing team of counselors who make a difference in the lives of these youth.





YDA Inspires Future Leaders

This week marked the third week for the Youth Development Academy high school students and the first week for session 2 middle school students. The younger students kicked off the week getting to know their groups and counselors through team-building activities and learning to express themselves through art. The high school students had the opportunity to meet with and interview California Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi and Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe. They even spent time role playing in the L.A. County board room, getting a feel for what it’s like to serve as a local official. We’re excited to watch the continued growth of these future leaders!


Students arrive at the California State University Dominguez Hills campus ready to meet their counselors.


Steve Tedesco greets a returning student with breakfast and a hug.


Students wait for artist PeQue to pass out materials and help them create designs for their hats.


Counselor Sergio works with a student on her hat design.


Counselor Gabriel assists his team as they compete in the Marshmallow Challenge.


Students race in a friendly competition.


2014 Youth Development Academy.


The 2014 YDA High School students prepare before meeting with Assembly Member Muratsuchi.


High School Program Director Ray helps high school member tie his tie.


Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi is interviewed by the high school students.


The YDA students with Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi.


Students review their notes before the interview with Supervisor Don Knabe in his downtown office.


Students greet Supervisor Don Knabe and his wonderful staff.


The high school students interview Supervisor Knabe.


The YDA students with L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe.





YDA Continues with Fun-filled Learning and Service Opportunities for Youth

Week two of the Summer Youth Development Academy brought many new and exciting moments for participants, from art projects and creative writing assignments to college visits and a special service day, and yes, the annual Water Olympics. In just two weeks we saw tremendous growth in our middle school students, who completed their session on Friday. The high school students continue for two more weeks, which will be filled with additional opportunities to inspire them for college and their future careers. Check out some of the highlights from week two of Summer YDA!


Executive Director, Chad Mayer greets the YDA session one students as they arrive at the Toberman Neighborhood Center for a day of service.


YDA students arrived at the Toberman Neighborhood Center ready to give back to their community.


Artist PeQue assists a student in preparing the room for a fresh coat of paint.


Executive Director Chad Mayer joins the campers in painting pathway on the floor.


YDA campers clean the computer lab of the Toberman Neighborhood Center.


Chad Mayer joins students and counselors in a game of basketball.


Chik-fil-A generously provided lunch for the YDA service day


Toberman CEO Linda Matlock thanks Sharefest YDA campers for their hard work.


Steve Tedesco talks with session one students about what they learned about teams and leadership during YDA.


Students participate in a musical chairs competition.


YDA camper receiving award from group counselor.


The competition gets intense as students demonstrate their swimming skills during YDA Water Olympics.


A student pushes a watermelon through the water during Water Olympics.


Students pause from activities for lunch from Subway.


High school students practice interview and videography skills as they capture stories during service day.




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