The northwest corner of Guymon Street & Euclid Avenue will be transformed to become the new home of the sports-based youth enrichment program Access Youth Academy (Access).  Access will become the new owners of the 0.86 acre, 37,500SF property, which is a part of Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation’s (JCNI) Town Center Master Plan.  JCNI’s agreement with Access to bring their innovative squash and education center to Southeastern San Diego, fulfills the Town Center Master Plan’s vision of allocating select sites to create new educational opportunities in the community.

“One of the guiding principles in JCNI’s Town Center Master Plan is to bring high quality education and enrichment options to the community.  We are delighted that Access Youth Academy will locate their beautiful, state-of-the-art facility here, in one of the communities they serve.  It will be a real community asset, too, available to members of the community when not used for Access Youth’s academic enrichment and wellness programs,” says Richard Seges, VP of Real Estate, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation.



Access uses the sport of squash and educational support programs to keep underserved middle and high school students (primarily from Southeastern San Diego and City Heights) in school, and assists their transition to college.  Access programs provide guidance to building essential life skills for our youth, enabling them to become more responsible and honorable adults.  Access’s mission is to invest in youth from some of San Diego’s underserved neighborhoods and provide them the skills, inspiration and confidence to reach their full potential.

Access’s new facility will include squash courts, locker rooms, three classrooms for academic studies and tutoring sessions, lab for college prep and admissions assistance, conference room for meetings and workshops, computer technology center, multi-purpose meeting rooms, staff offices, and parent lounge.  The squash courts will include seven singles squash courts and the ONLY doubles court in the San Diego area! Additionally, the Access facility will be available to members of the community, including evenings and weekends. Access’s vision is that this facility will serve as a true resource to community.


Aerial view from southeast corner

Entry from Euclid Ave

View from Euclid Ave (East)

“The new facility will greatly expand our capability to serve many more youth in partnership with several middle schools and high schools,” says Renato Paiva, Executive Director of Access Youth Academy.  Students have been shown to exhibit high academic achievements such as:

  • 100% high school graduation rate
  • Average GPA of 3.5 +
  • 100% college acceptance rate
  • Securing over $5 Million in earned scholarships
  • 13 National Urban Squash Titles Wins
  • Over 1000+ hours of community service

Access Youth Academy aims to create a culture of healthy lifestyle and exercise, encouraging students to find the discipline and dedication to unlock their potential and achieve their goals.  They ensure and advocate that family members are involved in the transformation process so they can witness the progress of their children as they mature into the next phase of their lives.

Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation is excited to welcome Access Youth Academy to the Diamond!

For more information about AYA and the amazing work they do, visit http://accessyouthacademy.org/


Jacobs Center Bids Farewell to Artist-in-Residence Gill Sotu

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The halls of the third floor of the Joe and Vi Jacobs Center have often been filled with faint music and inspirational words coming from the office of Gill Sotu, our artist-in-residence. It always brought a level of joy to our day-to-day operations here at the Jacobs Center, leading those of us who sat in nearby offices to stop by and see what he was working on. The music and poetry that he shared with us, and later with the community through one of his many projects, filled our space with creativity that reflects our vibrant neighborhood.

Our staff and the community have been inspired by Gill’s immense talent during his two-year tenure at the Jacobs Center, which comes to an end this week. Gill leaves behind countless memories and an indelible mark of artful imagination. Gill has been instrumental in advancing the Jacobs Center’s ability to bring arts to the community, activating spaces through innovative cultural programming.

Our first introduction to Gill’s talent was at our Town Hall series launch on February 26, 2015, where he performed an original piece on building community and encouraging engagement. The audience immediately responded with cheers. We saw then the power his words would have in inspiring residents to participate in the revitalization of their neighborhood.


Gill Sotu performing at the Town Hall series launch

Since then, Gill has led numerous exciting and fascinating projects. His play H.E.R.O.E.S. delved into a dystopian future where sacrificing your life could save your family from poverty, which drives one father to the extreme. It was a fascinating exploration into issues many people from disadvantaged communities face. As he told the San Diego Union-Tribune, “You can use the arts to inform the community about issues pertinent to them. Having someone like an artist-in-residence facilitate that direct connection to the people is invaluable.”

He brought that same level of insight into Ordinary Magic, an ambitious spoken word opera he wrote and directed. The play started as a concept he shared via a TEDx talk he gave last year, about finding beauty everywhere, even in the mundane. It evolved into a powerful play featuring original songs, a renowned opera singer, spoken word artists, a six-piece band, and seven actors telling an important story about finding your dreams and forgiving your past.


Gill Sotu performing in “Ordinary Magic”

It’s not only theater that Gill crafted during his time at the Jacobs Center. He produced, organized, hosted, and performed at two Poets & Painters Spoken Word, Music & Graffiti Arts Festivals – a unique annual event he created to build a space for urban artists to share their talents. Hundreds have attended the festival in its two years, bringing a fun and lively energy to Market Creek Amphitheater.

Along with these exciting and innovative projects, Gill lent his voice and original poetry to two Jacobs Centers videos, including our San Diego Press Club Award-winning video highlighting Writerz Blok’s collaboration with the Museum of Man. Gill also served as an MC and DJ at numerous events, and produced several of our PRISM events celebrating San Diego graffiti art, music, and culture.

During his time here, we’ve seen Gill grow artistically and in spirit. He has also grown in his family, becoming a father to a beautiful son. While we’ll miss his infectious smile and the inventiveness of his ideas, we’re positive Gill is going to do huge things in San Diego and beyond. His talent knows no bounds, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed providing a platform for it here in the Diamond. Thank you, Gill, for all you’ve created and shared with us!



The Food Truck & Music Fest Comes to the Diamond Every Friday Evening this Month!



Get a taste of the sounds and flavors of the Diamond every Friday night as the Diamond Business Association (BID) bring this month-long series to the neighborhood. Each week the empty lot located at 5083 Guymon St. will be converted into a happening spot with live music, various food trucks, activities and more. Bring the whole family out for a delicious and entertaining dinner!


Poets & Painters Spoken Word, Music, and Graffiti Arts Festival (June 24) Lineup Announced!

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The Jacobs Center’s Poets and Painters Spoken Word, Music & Graffiti Art Festival is back for a 2nd year!

Happening at Market Creek Amphitheater and Festival Park on Saturday, June 24, from 12 noon – 5 pm, this FREE event will feature a long line-up of diverse performers! They include:

Jacobs Center artists-in-residence and award-winning spoken word artist/playwright Gill Sotu and internationally recognized Writerz Blok graffiti artists Jose Venegas and Sergio Gonzalez.

The festival also includes a spoken word poetry slam competition, graffiti arts competition, a family storytelling stage, graffiti artists creating live murals, and hands-on workshops.

DJ Redlite 12:00 – 12:30
The Lyrical Groove (Neo Soul/Hip-Hop band) 12:30 – 1:00
Ric Scales (Hip-Hop) 1:10 – 1:25
The Filharmonic (Acapella) 1:30 -1:50
Alesha Wise (Poetry) 2:00 – 2:20
Dairrick Khalil Hodges (R&B/Funk) 2:25 – 2:40
Gill Sotu (Spoken Word) 2:45 – 3:05
JerVae (Soul Vocalist) 3:10 – 3:25
Poetry Slam 3:30 – 5:00

*schedule subject to change

Live art by HASL & DYSE ONE throughout the day.



Inspire Youth Careers Participant Gains Work Experience and Confidence via the Program

Inspire Youth Careers Participant Jessie Zelayandia

Inspire Youth Careers Participant Jessie Zelayandia


When the Jacobs Center launched its Inspire Youth Careers program, it had a few goals in mind. One of them was to provide its participants – Opportunity Youth ages 16-24 who are disconnected from school and work – with the chance learn and build a creative career in a paid, real-world working environment.

Participants went through a rigorous boot camp where they were trained in important soft skills, including effective communication, conflict resolution, managing your time, and other important factors for being employable and successful in your chosen education and career path.

Among the participants was Jessie Zelayandia.

Jessie is a 20-year-old woman with a passion for art. She has created murals around San Diego and Los Angeles and aspires to create a clothing line someday. Despite having big dreams and talent to match, Jessie found herself at a disadvantage. She spent many years homeless with her mother, bouncing from San Diego and Los Angeles to find a stable home. She was educated in part at San Diego’s Monarch School, which works specifically with homeless youth. Her upbringing created barriers to building the future career she’s always dreamt of.

An original portrait of iconic artist Frida Kahlo by Jessie

An original portrait of iconic artist Frida Kahlo by Jessie

During the boot camp phase of Inspire Youth Careers, however,  Jessie found a great start.

A while back she told us, “All of the lessons they are giving us give  me a really huge boost.” Jessie, and other students who made it  past Phase 1 – Boot Camp, went on to phase 2, the 200-hour skill building/technical training portion of the  program, during which she learned basic graphic design, web design, and digital media skills.

“I’m not too great with computers, so this is a boost up because I’m  going to go into college, and I’m going to already know basic things  and things I can use,” Jessie previously told us. “Apart from that, I’m  getting to where I want to be in my career.”

That was the next step: setting Jessie into her career.

The third phase of the Inspire Youth Careers program is the paid work experience portion. Jessie and a few of her Inspire Careers colleagues went to  work for the Diamond Business Association (BID), designing fliers,  posters, social media posts, and more for local small business in need of services.

Bike banners designed by Jessie and her team for the Diamond Business Association - BID

Bike banners designed by Jessie and her team for the Diamond Business Association – BID

One exciting project was  designing light post banners  celebrating Bicycle Awareness  Month. Jessie and her fellow  Inspire Careers co-workers collaborated on the banners’ design. They now hang along Euclid Avenue and Market Street.

Seeing the banners in her neighborhood has been exciting for Jessie as well as her mom.

“I passed by them with my mom and she was really happy and proud,” she says. “From seeing where I started and how far along I’ve come, it’s really cool. I think about how when I was younger I always wanted to make my art be out there, and this is just another way of doing that.”

Like many others, Jessie believed that art can only be a hobby and not a career that can provide a livable wage. However, through the Inspire Youth Careers program and work experience, she has not seen the possibility but also given an opportunity to make it happen for herself.

The program also empowered Jessie to push pass the doubts and fears that have kept her from pursuing a higher education. She admits to wanting to learn graphic design but didn’t feel comfortable attending City College.

“I didn’t want the professors to get frustrated with me because I didn’t know those programs,” she says. “To have Ron and Laura (Inspire Youth Career instructor and project manager, respectively) and the whole team made it really easy to learn and for it to stick. I’m really happy I joined the program because now I don’t feel insecure. Everyday I’m still working on my skills and trying to get better.”

Jessie’s next step? Keeping up the momentum! Through a partnership with the Jacobs Center and San Diego Continuing Education, she is working to receive a certification in graphic design. Then she hopes to have her own clothing line someday so she can put her art on shirts and hats. We can’t wait to rock our own Jessie original!




Hitachi Data Systems Supports Jacobs Center’s Upcoming Poets & Painters Festival


We send a special thank you to the San Diego office of Hitachi Data Systems, who have generously provided support for our Poets & Painters Spoken Word, Music & Graffiti Art Festival! Events like this ensures the #diamondshines. Join us Saturday June 24 for the festival!



Longtime Resident and Advocate Kathleen Harmon Honored with a Street Name Designation by City Council


Long-time community resident and advocate Kathleen Harmon was honored over the weekend by receiving the City of San Diego’s first-ever honorary street name designation.

You can now drive down Kathleen E. Harmon Way on the 300 block of Welling Way between Madrone and La Sena Avenues in Skyline Hills.

The designation comes after decades of commitment and work for the Southeastern San Diego community. An advocate for education as well as social and economic justice, Ms. Harmon has been in the political arena for over 40 years, working with elected officials, administrators, and department officials to ensure that our communities prosper. She did this all while also raising seven children, leading the PTA, working a 10-hour shift at the Southeast Welfare Department, volunteering on various boards and committees, and completing her higher education, including a Masters in Social Work from San Diego State University at age 54. She also started the San Diego Peace Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to serving families who have lost a loved one to violence. Losing her granddaughter, Chaleta Atina Robertson, to violence led her to create this coalition as way to bring hope and solace to others who’ve experienced this kind of after tragedy, and to advocate for peace in the community.


Ms. Harmon is the epitome of drive, hard work, and dedication to bettering self and community.

As San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole said in her newsletter, “I cannot think of any other person more deserving than Kathleen Harmon to receive this designation.” The Council President spearheaded the designation.

Here is a video (courtesy of JoAnn Fields via Facebook) taken at the street designation of Ms. Harmon giving her remarks and thanks.


The Jacobs Center held a special surprise reception for Ms. Harmon to celebrate this huge honor and her legacy with her friends, family, and others she has positively impacted over the years. It was filled with beautiful words about Ms. Harmon’s work and the strength of her character.


At the event, Jacobs Center president and CEO Reginald Jones spoke on Ms. Harmon’s indelible mark on the community.

“While I have only been in San Diego a short period, I recognize that Mrs. Harmon has been a long-time contributor to advance community voice on behalf of Southeastern San Diego residents,” he says. “Her impact for community benefit has extended into the region.”

For Ms. Harmon’s daughter, Karen Cole, the street name designation comes after 86 years of her mother’s impressive and inspiring work.

“It’s a blessing to be my mother’s daughter because my mother has been in the community over 60 years, and I got to watch her become the woman she is today,” says Cole.


“I’m happy for her to be alive to see it and be rejoiced that all her labor has not gone unnoticed. All my siblings are happy about it. My older brother passed, and I know he’s jumping for joy knowing that all my mom’s hard work paid off. I just wish he was here in the flesh to enjoy it with us.”

Dr. Rudy Johnson, CEO/President Neighborhood Housing Association, has known Ms. Harmon his entire adult life and considers himself a product of this community.

“Anyone who’s lived in this community has felt advocacy, support, or influence of Kathleen Harmon, and I’m one of those individuals,” he says.


For Dr. Johnson, driving passed Kathleen Harmon Way won’t just remind him of her incredible legacy in Southeastern San Diego through her work. It will also remind him of the caring and giving person she is.

“The fact that she is a volunteer that is taking this responsibility to be an advocate for others speaks volumes of her character,” he says. “It’s a huge honor and a great tip of the cap to her work.”

We thank and honor Ms. Kathleen Harmon for all she has done for Southeastern San Diego!






Reginald Jones CityAge: Building the Future Conference


CEO Reginald Jones advocating strongly for a more inclusive economy and greater investments in infrastructure in historically underinvested communities to a national audience of civic leaders and officials at the CityAge: Building the Future conference.

The CityAge conference brings together experts and leaders to discuss the important work in urban development.


From the CityAge website:

CityAge is a platform for ideas and business development, designed to enable new partnerships among the business, government and societal decision makers who are building the 21st Century.

Our conferences – and growing international network – provide an opportunity to understand and identify key markets and emerging opportunities; meet industry and government leaders; visit key markets and meet key contacts; and build collaboration and communication among individuals, organizations, professions, sectors and cities around the world.

Both Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Reginald Jones acknowledged the public-philanthropic partnership that will result in expediting infrastructure improvement projects in the Diamond Neighborhoods.

The conference was at the San Diego Central Library and attended by city planning leaders from across the country.


Monarch Arredon Contemporary and Renown Street Artist Chor Boogie hold “Visual Jazz” Exhibition, Which Will Benefit Writerz Blok



“Mr. Money” by Chor Boogie


Monarch Arredon Contemporary presents an incredible solo exhibition with renown street artist Chor Boogie. See more than 20 of his vibrant pieces, and help a great cause! Chor and Monarch Arredon are kindly offering a percentage of sales to Writerz Blok, the Jacobs Center’s youth arts and social enterprise program.

Chor can often be found painting at the yard, and found community and support there as an emerging artist coming up. We thank him and Monarch Arredon for their generosity!

The opening reception will be held Saturday, April 29, from 5 to 8 pm, at Monarch Arredon Contemporary, located at 862 Prospect, Suite A, in La Jolla, California. For more information on the exhibition, click here.


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