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San Francisco's Creative Youth

Volunteer for a Youth-Oriented Literary Nonprofit

Gerald Reyes has been teaching poetry to his fifth graders at Highland School in Hayward for the past two years. A 31-year-old poet whose day job is getting kids excited about nouns, verbs and adjectives, Reyes brought in inspiration from his time in the performance world to help his 32 kids learn to love the power of words.

With the help of different workshop techniques from the nonprofit Teachers and Writers Collaborative, Reyes built a stage in his classroom and began an open-mic series in his own classroom.

"Poetry is used as a nice type of activity but in reality it's the natural language of children because kids think in metaphors. That's how they learn and compare things to the world," said Reyes about why he chose to use poetry in the classroom.

This focus on engaging youth through the power of spoken word and poetry is alive and well in the Bay, well known for both its literary arts scene and in the plethora of good causes that Bay area residents are involved in.

What better way to spend a few hours than helping young people develop their own voices and stories? There are many organizations in the Bay that work with youth both inside the classroom and in after-school programs. Here are some to look into:

Streetside Stories began in 1991 after two brothers biked across the country, teaching storytelling at schools along the way. The organization organizes two-week workshops taught to 800 sixth-graders in seven San Francisco public schools. Volunteers involved with the program share their own stories with participants in addition to helping them one-on-one with writing. At the close of the school year, the students produce an anthology of their autobiographical stories that is sold in local bookstores and at the San Francisco Public Library.

San Francisco was chosen in 1994 as one of three cities to implement WritersCorps, a San Francisco Arts Commission program that has been placing writers in community organizations that serve youth ranging from juvenile detention facilities to public housing to after-school programs to teach creative writing to youth aged 6 to 21 years old. WritersCorps teachers hold classes from eight months to one year. Sites include Log Cabin Ranch, Loco Bloco, Newcomer High School and Center for Young Women's Development.

At first glance, 826 Valencia in the Mission looks anything but a center for youth empowerment. Don't be fooled by the storefront which sells pirate gear, but look inside those walls and you'll find drop-in tutors and in-depth workshops including creative writing, journalism, film, design, photo manipulation, comics, and publishing to the Web for students from the ages of eight to eighteen. Teachers are also encouraged to bring their classes to 826 Valencia on fieldtrips.

Youth Speaks attracts the hottest poets in the Bay to train the up-and-coming generation of spoken word artists and slammers. Workshops which fuse different elements of hip-hop, personal narrative, poetry, theater, fiction, video and dance are offered Monday through Friday for teens fourteen to nineteen years old at different community locations throughout the Bay. Workshops not only cover different writing forms such as slam, but covers material such as Jason Mateo's This Kolor Children workshop which focuses on writing personal experiences as relating to culture, history and society. The organization also hosts events featuring youth performers such as the teen poetry slam.

Keep in mind that there are many ways to get involved in your local community -- check out the school or library down the street. There may be youngsters there, eager to create their own story.

Streetside Stories: 285 Ninth St., SF, 415.864.5221,, [email protected]

WritersCorps: 25 Van Ness Ave., Suite 240, SF, 415.252.4655,, [email protected]

826 Valencia: 826 Valencia St., SF, 415.642.5905,, [email protected]m

Youth Speaks: 2169 Folsom St., SF, 415.255.9035,, [email protected]