The San Francisco-based organization, Communities in Harmony Advocating for Learning and Kids — CHALK — was founded in March 1996 by David Glickman and Jason Singer.
CHALK transforms and enriches the lives of disconnected and at-risk youth by providing them with a sense of identity and purpose and helping them to gain skills and be productive.
CHALK, located at 965 Mission St. Suite 520, provides these youths — who are between the ages of 14 and 24 — with an opportunity to be community organizers, grantmakers, outreach workers, after-school outreach program leaders, media producers and counselors.
“Having a job where you are of service to others changes how they see themselves and how the community sees them as well,” said Director Ruth Barajas-Cardona of San Francisco Youth Development and Employment Programs for CHALK.
CHALK also provides these youths with academic support; for example, it assists them in preparing for college.
“What we are doing is providing young people with a wraparound approach in that you get as much of the things you need as possible from here all in one place,” said Barajas-Cardona. “That’s definitely our approach, is this wraparound model, with an individual approach as well.”
Anthony Patchell, 19, first came to CHALK last fall. He said the organization helped him look forward to the future and use the past as something to learn from.
“Since my first trip to juvenile hall up until October 2013, I had been in and out of YGC [Youth Guidance Center], group homes and placements, “ Patchell stated. “I was shot at the age of 16 and came an inch away from death. I was so intertwined with the streets that my parents were constantly telling me how afraid they were that one of these days they were going to lose me. CHALK has played a big part in giving me the hope and positive support that I need as an individual to be successful in the world and environment that I live in.”
Patchell added, “All my life I have looked at my past as something that will hold me back, and I had let it affect me deeper than I probably should have. But at CHALK one of the core values is focused around youth using their past experiences — negative or bad — to help make tomorrow a better place.
“After spending more and more time in the positive environment created by my CHALK family, I have come to accept my part in making tomorrow a better place. CHALK has helped me in my short time working here to believe in myself and live up to my full potential. I have also learned how to look at my past as a blessing instead of a curse. Now I feel like I went through all that for a reason that I wasn’t even fully aware of at the time and that was to help better tomorrow and lead the next generation.”
Patchell emphasized that it is good being with other people who have been through or are going through what he has been through. He has been working as a community organizer with CHALK and has assisted with two campaigns — the first being justice rights for young people, and the second being rights for undocumented youths.
According to Barajas-Cardona., CHALK served approximately 90 youths during the 2013–2014 fiscal year. She said that the selection process is highly competitive, and there are several hundred applicants a year.
“There are two recruiting cycles per year, Barajas-Cardona explained. “We recruit for our year-round cycle in May. We get hundreds of applicants, and we interview all of them. The youth who are selected start training in July. The other cycle we call a half-year cycle, since it’s a six-month time frame. It starts in November. “
CHALK has a budget of just under $800,000 for this fiscal year. About 90 percent of CHALK’s funding comes from the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families — DCYF — while the remaining 10 percent comes from private foundations.
“DCYF funds two CHALK programs currently, both of which provide youth workforce development services,” commented Aumijo Gomez, program officer. “The programs we fund are called Youthline and ReSET. The reason that we fund this organization is because they provide very good workforce opportunities to youth in San Francisco. The agency has been around for awhile and has become a leader in implementing programs that are essentially youth run. By that I mean that participants implement many of the components of their programs and have real decision-making power.”
Gomez added, “The programs have different levels that participants can progress through as they gain skills and hone their interests. I think this combination of multiple skill building opportunities mixed with the ability to gain and practice leadership skills is what makes CHALK unique. When you also factor in their high level of cultural competence, experience working with a range of youth from differing backgrounds and wide reach across the city, you can see why DCYF has funded their programs for as long as we have.”
What are some of the rewards of running CHALK, and what are some of the challenges?
“The biggest reward is being able to take part in the growth and development of the youth we serve,” Barajas-Cardona said. “They are trusting me by letting me in and allowing me to be part of their journey. I witness the youth struggle and even the steps backward, but I also get to experience the steps forward and that makes it worth it.”
Barajas-Cardona expects 2014 to be a good year for CHALK. “I think that 2014 will be a good year,” he said. “We are relocating to a larger space. We are looking to expand our employment and youth organizing work.”
Will CHALK be doing anything new or different in 2014? “We just started youth organizing as another employment track for youth,” Barajas-Cardona said. “Through community organizing, they can make change within the systems they struggled in; systems they would like to improve.”
Barajas-Cardona expects CHALK to have a bright future. “CHALK is in the process of updating its web site and is looking forward to launching it, although no exact date has been set,” she said.
Additionally, CHALK plans to move to a new location. “Our rent is going up here so we need to move to a more affordable location,” Barajas-Cardona said. “We would like to secure more space as well so we have room to grow.”
While some things will change in the future, CHALK’s mission, vision, and goals will remain the same. “We would like to continue our innovative, wrap around approach to serving in-risk and disconnected youth and maintain our reputation for quality youth-led programming,” she said.
More information about CHALK can be found on its website, www.chalk.org, or by calling 415.977.6949.