Hope for Junior

“I don’t want to add color,” eight-year old Junior explained when he turned in his holiday sheet a few weeks ago.

His drawing stood out because of its bleakness. The other children had drawn candy canes, presents, Santa, and Christmas trees—all brimming with colors reflective of the extra joy you typically see in kids this time of year.

The SAY teacher immediately knew not to push Junior to add anything and instead asked him to explain what the drawing meant to him.

“It’s what our living room used to look like a year ago . . . before everything changed. I wish we could have it back to the way it was” Junior said, trying to smile through his sadness.

It has been a rough year for Junior. This boy’s world changed rapidly in a matter of months because of the long-term illness of his teen sister, who had died just before Thanksgiving. This holiday season, there are painful reminders at every turn for Junior and his younger brother that their sister is gone. His mother puts on a brave face at home, wrapping her sons in as much love and cheer as she can. She is a single parent with a stable job at a local auto-parts store, but beyond the emotional devastation that the loss of a child brings, the medical bills and funeral expenses were more than she could handle. Soon, she could not cover the rent and they became homeless overnight.

Christmas was never extravagant for Junior and his family, but his mother had always managed to make the holidays joyful for her kids. This year, there is no secret wrapping of presents or holiday drawings on refrigerators. The living room that usually had a small tree and coffee table adorned with a modest array of decorations was now a distant memory. For the past few months, Junior, his younger brother, and mother have been sleeping on the living room floor of family friend.

Fortunately, Junior’s mother came to the attention of the school principal and SAY teacher, and we were able to help with some emergency assistance and referrals so that critical needs were met for food and clothing. SAY is also assisting with grant funds to help cover other basic expenses so that Junior’s mother can reach her goal to set aside part of each paycheck to cover the first month’s rent for her own apartment again. Some surprise gifts will also find their way to Junior and his family this week thanks to generous SAY Holiday Hopes donors.

SAY helps thousands of children like Junior every day. Whether it’s a gift for the holidays or support for our work throughout the year, your donations ensure that kids like Junior are not facing tragedy and challenges alone.

If you have already made a recent contribution to SAY San Diego, thank you very much again for making a difference. If you know of others who might want to help this holiday season and beyond, please share this story.

SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY to grow your gift now through January 26, 2020:

CLICK HERE to support critical SAY programs through Champions for Youth. Farmers Insurance will add funds to every dollar of your gift to SAY!


2019 Community Mentor Summit

By SAY staff Jacinda Abcarian

It’s not every day that you walk into a convention center and see former gang members greeting police officers with hugs, and teens on probation networking with prosecutors. Welcome to the Community Mentor Summit, where people from all walks of life come together to show their commitment to a new way of tackling juvenile delinquency in San Diego, California.

This annual 2-day event took place October 16 – 17, 2019, and highlighted the legitimacy of the “credible messenger” model which San Diego has recently adopted as a best practice for working with youth who have come to the attention of law enforcement. This model allows those with real life experience in the criminal justice system to serve as inspirational mentors to youth on probation.

SAY San Diego, through a grant from the County of San Diego’s Probation Department, is currently working with credible messengers including  Arthur Soriano of Youth Empowerment and Reginald Washington of Project AWARE to bring hope, life skills, and emotional literacy to San Diego youth who are system-involved. Soriano and Washington were featured speakers at the Community Mentor Summit.

A heartfelt Soriano looked into the audience and stated, “I’m here to support the community that I once destroyed.” Raised in City Heights, Soriano fell into the pitfalls of drugs, gangs, juvenile hall, and ultimately 23 years in prison. Since his release just 6 years ago, Soriano has made impressive strides in improving relations between his community and the various systems he was in. He is now recognized by law enforcement, probation, juvenile judges, principals, and non-profit organizations as an advocate for community change and example of life transformation.

Reginald Washington

Reginald Washington of Project AWARE also spoke to the power of lived experience when mentoring youth who have been in and out of juvenile hall. “What’s incredible is the fact that these mentors have been able to overcome hard times and are still be able to speak and reach these individuals in the streets. It does mean something when you have been there, and you can actually speak about it.” As a young man, Washington was involved in gangs without any awareness of alternative ways to deal with his anger. One night he got in an altercation and shot someone. This resulted in a 15-year prison sentence that would forever change his life. Washington is now a leader in the credible messenger movement and recognized by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and Probation Department for his contributions with their Youth Academy and promoting public safety.

According to Washington, youth need to see that success is not all about money and street cred – it is about changing your life and having peace of mind. And who better to deliver that message than someone who has been there? Washington said, “I like to show the youth, ‘this is what it looks like when you are successful. You could be at your lowest point in life, you could be entrenched in gangs, but this is what it looks like when you are really successful.’”

To the mixed audience of teens, social service providers, and youth advocates, San Diego’s elected officials also addressed the trailblazing work happening in in the county. County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar stated: “After decades of punishment and incarceration, our probation department took a long hard look at what it takes to keep kids out of juvenile hall and safely in their communities. This new community-based approach has developed through strong partnerships with our District Attorney Summer Stephan, our Probation Department Chief Gonzales, our Public Defender Randy Mise, our juvenile courts, various law enforcement agencies, and our community partners.”

Kristin Gaspar, Summer Stephan, Arthur Soriano and daughter, Nick Macchione (photo courtesy of A. Soriano)

“This new community-based approach … is a level of collaboration that has never been done before – not here in San Diego, not in the state of California, not anywhere across the country – we have a lot to be proud of.”– County Supervisor, Kristin Gaspar

San Diego has committed to making a difference in the lives of teens and young adults by launching several initiatives to improve criminal justice processes and reduce recidivism.

District Attorney Summer Stephan spoke passionately about her commitment to creating a climate of justice for all San Diegans, including those who have been in the system. “We want to give 2nd and 3rd chances, and we want to do it with accountability to the community we serve. We’ve done this by removing 1,500 marijuana felony convictions, without somebody asking us to. We did

it on our own because that’s what the law provides. We do this by offering expungement clinics. I was one of only two prosecutors in the state to support Assembly-member Ting’s bill that automatically expunges records of people that are entitled to that expungement. But we expect people to be lawyers and apply to get the collateral consequences removed that they are entitled to under the law! Being able to have our system do it automatically is the right way to do it.” These statements drew wide applause as Stephan went on to reiterate that community mentorship is critical to transforming lives. From her years serving women and children in the area of human trafficking, Stephan saw firsthand that victims were more likely to listen to those who had experienced similar struggles. “We know that when someone with lived experience displays the empathy of having walked in that person’s shoes, it makes a tremendous difference. And it makes a difference because they can see a path. They can see ‘this person had my journey and now has arrived to this other side, and they are the leaders.’”

“We need to work with community mentors – they are bringing their talents, their gifts, their energy, their dedication, and their commitment to making our communities as flourishing and as healthy as possible.  We came to realize that we don’t need to, nor can we, do this alone.” Jason Rasch, Supervising Probation Officer

The importance of preserving hope among young people was a strong theme that shaped the summit. Nick Macchione, Director of the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, came to show his support for community mentorship by telling a story from his childhood. “You see, I was one of those youth. By the graces of God, I didn’t end up in my juvenile detention facility in West New York and New Jersey where I grew up. But as an immigrant kid, a latch-key kid living above a liquor store in an urban area, I was probably one stone’s throw away from the juvenile delinquency card that

Planning Committee Top Row Left to Right: Marquitta Barnes (Project Aware), Erica Palmer (SAY San Diego), Arturo Soriano (Youth Empowerment), Joshlyn Turner (The Write Juice) Rashida Hameed (Epiphany Women In Focus), Leticia Bombadier (Youth Empowerment & Transformative Centered Solutions), Jason Druxman (San Diego County Probation Department); Shlyn Guarian, MSW (HHSA, Central Region); Robert Ontiveros (iPayLo); Dana Brown (Youth Voice & Learn4Life) Bottom Row Left to Right: Pastor Jesus Sandoval (Commission on Gang Prevention & Intervention), Jason Rasch (San Diego County Probation Department) Reginald Washington (Project A.W.A.R.E.); Daniel Orth (Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, USD)

most of my buddies got – it’s because I had Big John. John was a retired veteran that worked in the liquor store, and he would talk to me every day afterschool, about music, about life, and he’d let me dust the bottles with the feathers…he was always there for me. Although we did not call it community mentoring at the time, Big John was just that. I was fortunate.”

The Community Mentor Summit provided a safe space for a diverse group of stakeholders to delve into San Diego’s complex issues related to juvenile delinquency, the criminal justice system, and new approaches to improving community wellness. It was a platform for young people and police officers alike to share their perspectives on why community mentoring matters.





To learn more about SAY San Diego’s Community Mentoring Program, visit: https://www.saysandiego.org/program/resilience-community-mentoring-program/

To learn more about SAY San Diego’s Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Development Programs, visit: https://www.saysandiego.org/program/delinquency-prevention-youth-development/


A Snapshot of Our Impact

SAY San Diego creates positive change in the lives of youth, adults, and families by engaging the community and partnering with schools, law enforcement, local government, community leaders, the military, businesses, and individuals. SAY San Diego meets diverse needs at more than 40 schools and six community resource centers. Our dedicated staff provide critical support in areas such as youth development, family strengthening, child abuse prevention, foster family support, substance abuse prevention, mental health counseling, and juvenile delinquency prevention.

Click here to view our brand new agency video, which provides a snapshot of our impact in the community.


Early Childhood Center Ribbon Cutting

SAY San Diego’s showcase workplace-based Early Childhood Center is officially open! We are grateful to everyone who attended our ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, November 15. Special thank you to County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, City Councilmember Chris Cate, City Councilmember Chris Ward, County of San Diego Health and Human Services Director, Nick Macchione, and President & CEO of The San Diego Foundation, Mark Stuart, for your support, vision and partnership.

Click here for KUSI news coverage
Click here for CBS8 news coverage


November is Military Family Appreciation Month

Imagine leaving behind a successful career and a loving family to move 7,000 miles away. The language is new, the culture is vastly different, and the only person you know is your spouse. For Maureen, a military wife born and raised in the Philippines, this is her reality.

For many military spouses, feelings of loneliness and isolation are common, but as someone brand new to the United States, Maureen had to overcome additional challenges. “At home in the Philippines, I was very independent. I provided for my family and looked out for everyone else. Here in the United States, I’ve had to learn to accept help from others.” A critical source of help and support is SAY San Diego’s Healthy Start Military Family Resource Center (MFRC) and First 5 First Steps program.

Maureen learned about SAY’s programs through the Balboa Naval Medical Center when she was pregnant with her daughter, Amelia. She was connected to her case manager Debbie, who became an immediate source of support and guidance. “For the first two years, Debbie visited me at my home every week. She was my only confidant. She checked on Amelia’s development, provided me with resources, and helped me to get to know the area and what was available to me.”

These days you can find Maureen at the MFRC every week. She brings Amelia to playgroup so she can interact with other children, and Maureen participates in yoga classes taught at the center by volunteers. For Maureen, the MFRC is a safe space where she is supported by SAY staff and a community of military wives who she can lean on.

Appreciation for our military extends beyond those in uniform. Military spouses also make sacrifices in service to our country, often parenting children solo and managing frequent moves that keep them far from familiar support networks.

SAY San Diego is proud to support military families through a variety of services and a place to connect with others. The MFRC serves active duty, transitioning, and veteran military personnel and the families. Located in Murphy Canyon, which has one of the largest collections of off-base US military population in the world, the MFRC strengthens families and communities by offering connections to resources such as food, housing, counseling, financial assistance, parenting classes, support groups, and more.

The Rice Family Foundation Supports Two SAY Projects

SAY San Diego is thrilled to announce that The Rice Family Foundation recently awarded a grant to SAY San Diego for two exciting projects – Girls Circle and a Middle School Youth Sports League!

To address the needs of vulnerable students, SAY will launch Girls Circle, an evidence-based program that employs a strengths-based approach rooted in relational-cultural and resiliency theory. The Girls Circle curriculum is comprised of thirteen guides including topics such as friendships, relationships, setting boundaries, coping skills, effects of drug use, reaching goals and self-care. Girls Circle will take place at SAY’s Serra Real Connections (SRC), a thriving family resource center on the Serra High School campus in San Diego that collaborates with community stakeholders to serve over 1,000 youth and their families annually through mentoring, academic support, youth leadership and development programs, workshops, and parent education and engagement. Girls Circle groups will be facilitated by highly qualified female Healthy Start program staff and co-facilitated by social work interns from partnering universities.

In order to provide youth enrolled in our Prime Time after school care with the chance to experience teamwork and fun during the critical “tween” years, SAY San Diego will launch a Middle School Youth Sports League for 150+ students so they can play their peers in team sports such as flag football, soccer, basketball, and more. The majority of youth enrolled are with us from 2:00 – 6:00pm each school day, or 20+ hours per week, while their parents work. We want their significant time with us to be fun and impactful. Unfortunately, intramural sports leagues are simply not an option for most children of low-income, working class, and single-parent families due to the financial- and time-demands that come with securing uniforms, taking off work to drive the youth to games, providing snacks for the team, and so on. Now our youth don’t have to miss out on the transformative experience of joining a formal team!

The Patriots Connection Supports the San Diego Military Family Collaborative

The Patriots Connection, a program of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, recently awarded a grant to SAY San Diego to support the San Diego Military Family Collaborative (SDMFC)!

The SDMFC is a countywide network of 200 service providers dedicated to improving social, economic, and health outcomes for families experiencing unique challenges of military life and transition to civilian life. Since 2010, SAY has convened SDMFC and used data to identify service gaps, map regional resources, and mobilize action teams to address unique military family needs. SDMFC provides a unified platform to share information, educate and train partners, and knit San Diego’s military community together through outreach and informative monthly convenings.

The SDMFC brings attention to serious issues experienced by military families in order to develop solutions and make a positive impact in San Diego. For example, SDMFC launched the “Community Prevention and Safety Alliance” to specifically reach youth and teens from military families struggling with problems such as substance abuse and behavioral challenges at school. Additionally, SDMFC completed an academic study to asset map the military and veteran service organizations across San Diego County. In partnership with the University of San Diego (USD) and the San Diego Veterans Coalition, the SDMFC orchestrated “Community Conversations” to convene service providers and military families in order to inform the report published by USD, “Pathways and Intersections in the Military Lifecycle: How San Diego Supports the Military and Veteran Connected Community.” For the project, 109 agencies and 162 unique individuals informed a map of services and identified gaps in services for military families. The study is here: http://sdmilitaryfamily.org/sdrvfws-report/

PwC Invests in Creating Brighter Futures for Middle School Youth!

A grant from the PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc. to SAY San Diego will allow us to equip middle school students with the STEAM education they need to succeed. We are excited to use PwC’s Access Your Potential ™ (AYP) technology curriculum, and engage PwC US volunteers, to reach 450 middle school youth in our after school programs at Bethune, Darnall Charter, Farb Middle, Innovation Middle, Lewis Middle and Standley Middle schools! Additionally, we will hold two community events in the Central and Southeastern regions of San Diego to inspire young people to pursue STEAM careers. The events will include interactive STEAM activities and will feature San Diego tech leaders, and CODE-E, PwC’s AYP robot. We are so grateful to the PwC Charitable Foundation for this opportunity!

About The PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc.
The PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc., is a section 501(c)(3) organization that makes contributions to the people of PwC in times of financial hardship, and to nonprofit organizations that support and promote education and humanitarianism.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

In the minute it takes you to read this, another 20 people in the U.S. will have been subjected to domestic violence. According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men report having experienced severe violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. At SAY San Diego, we strive to improve health, wellness, and social outcomes for victims of domestic violence by providing counseling and case management that leads to safety planning, refuge, and hopefully an end to the violence.

Additionally, through our partnership with the San Diego Family Justice Center (FJC), SAY San Diego supports mothers seeking to escape domestic violence. SAY San Diego’s child development team staffs an onsite Child Watch program at the FJC to provide a safe, positive, and enriching environment for children while their mothers confidentially receive services including legal assistance and help securing shelter.

Reducing domestic violence is not limited to programs and services. By recognizing domestic violence as a life-threatening issue, we can help stop the cycle of abuse. If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE), direct them to the San Diego Family Justice Center, or SAY’s domestic violence resource page.

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