Thu, 08 Sep 2011 14:24:00
Display at Larkin Street Youth Services made with plastic removed from local beaches - Photo by Leland Fox.
Through a program called “Serving Bay Area Communities,” the Hewlett Foundation based in Menlo Park has established itself as one of the major supporters of social services in the Bay Area.
“Hewlett does a lot of international and national grantmaking,” said Peter Belden, an officer with the Population Program at the Hewlett Foundation. “Much of that is focused on research. But our local grantmaking is directed towards giving back in a very tangible way.”
Jointly founded in 1966 by William R. Hewlett – co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Company – and his wife Flora, the foundation set its sights on solving some of the social and environmental problems that riddle the world.
With assets close to $7.4 billion, the foundation disbursed an estimated $358,100,000 and awarded $205,273,667 in grants in 2010. Grantees include organizations working towards reducing poverty in the developing world and curbing carbon emissions.
Through two San Francisco programs, they aim to help the city’s disadvantaged youth, one grant at a time.
“We love the Hewlett Foundation,” gushed Executive Director Sharon Papo, of the Third Street Youth Center and Clinic in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. “We think they are an ideal funder and have an ideal funding model. They have been a joy to work with and have been instrumental to our success.”
The Third Street Youth Center and Clinic is housed in a former liquor store. Where booze once flowed out the doors, now 1,000 young people yearly between the ages of 12 and 24 have received medical care, sexual education, health education and more.
“We are the only teen-specific comprehensive health service provider in the neighborhood,” Papo said. “You can feel how youth oriented we are when you walk in the door. From the colors on the walls, to the music we play, to the couches where people can just hang out – this is a youth center.”
Before Third Street opened in 2005, young people in the neighborhood didn’t have a confidential place to receive health care. “A group of young people were doing a summer program, and as part of that did a community needs assessment,” Papo said. “They realized that Bayview Hunters Point is an area with some of the greatest health disparities in San Francisco. They decided to move their energy into a health center and youth clinic, and that’s how Third Street came to be.”
Teen pregnancy prevention is one of the Hewlett’s fundamental policies, and they took notice of Third Street’s efforts early on.
“We look for organizations that are aligned with our goals—such as teen pregnancy prevention—and look for organizations that are serving a real need,” said Belden. He added, “There weren’t a lot of resources in this part of San Francisco that were providing teen pregnancy prevention services, sex education and birth control other than Third Street.”
Third Street also serves as a space where youths in one of San Francisco’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods can receive mental health counseling, take up activities such as belly dancing and take on leadership roles.
“A lot of the youth in our programs are involved in the decision-making process,” Papo said. “We have groups go to city hall and talk budget cuts with city government, and those same kids will decide what colors to paint the walls.”
Though pregnancy prevention is a contentious issue for some, Belden said the members of the community receiving the services of Third Street are supportive of the clinic’s efforts to helping young people build a life before they have children.
“The critics can cleverly disguise the issues, but they are avoiding the truth that this is really about providing people with accurate sex education and birth control,” Belden said. “This is a deeply held value at the foundation – that people have the right to determine when they have children and how many they have. This is a fundamental right of humans.”
One of the biggest challenges Third Street faces happens right outside its doors.
“Violence is one of the greatest health issues for people in the neighborhood,” Papo said. “The intake we have of people who’ve been shot at, I can conservatively estimate that number as more than 60 percent. Though we are in a neutral turf area, some people have to go far out of their way to get to us because there are blocks that are not safe for them to go on.”
Third Street is in the process of moving to a new housing development at 5600 Third St., a more spacious facility that will be designed to maximize the program’s services. Across the street await a park, a pool and a larger health center where youths can go if they need more comprehensive care. A juice bar – well known for hiring youths from the neighborhood – will be their new next-door neighbor.
Reaching young people through the arts is another prong of the foundation’s work in the city, and that effort is concentrated at the Larkin Street Youth Services in the Tenderloin. Larkin zeros in on youths who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness.
“What we have found the key to success to be is having a continuum of service,” Executive Director Sherilyn Adams of Larkin Street said. “Getting a place to live is the beginning of the process, but from there, finishing your education, getting a GED, learning how to look for employment: those are all part of transitioning successfully into adulthood, and those are services we provide.”
Larkin’s program grew out of a coalition of citizens in the Polk Gulch neighborhood who realized that too many young people were living on the streets, being exploited, involved in sex work and suffering from substance abuse.
Now, 27 years later, the drop-in center started by those citizens has sprouted into 13 locations throughout the city that serve 3,400 youth, ages 13-24, every year. In 2010, Larkin provided enough housing to keep youths off the streets for 86,190 nights.
Adams said that Hewlett has been a major supporter of the center for years. Larkin Street is the umbrella organization for Third Street, providing back-office support, while Third Street maintains its autonomy as an organization.
“The foundation has been an outstanding supporter of Third Street’s program,” Adams said. “And has done so similarly for Larkin.”
Hewlett provides funding for Larkin Street’s arts program. They always had a small one, focused on the visual arts. Five years ago, Hewlett stepped in and expanded the program, mixing in the performing arts.
“Now we have youth able to learn to play the guitar or perform stand-up comedy,” Adams said. “We have guest artists come in and teach video production, knitting, sewing, the piano. This has allowed the young people the opportunity to explore their own talents.”
The arts program is one of the best outreach strategies Larkin Street has. “The response from the youth has been huge,” she said. “It’s a learning opportunity through art.
When someone learns how to play the guitar, they also learn how to read music, learn how to perform, learn how to generate buzz around what they’re doing.”
Hewlett’s support also provides youths at Larkin the opportunity to see performances in the city, from new plays in the Mission to more traditional events like the symphony.