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.



The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation Wins a Prestigious $700k Grant from the James Irvine Foundation


Creating lasting, generational progress in a community that has been historically underserved is no easy feat. You need partners who believe in the work you are doing to help achieve those goals, and will allow you to push through various barriers to change lives.

The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation is pleased to announce that the James Irvine Foundation has selected our organization for a $700,000 investment. We couldn’t be more excited and grateful to the Irvine Foundation, who joins the Legler Benbough Foundation and the City of San Diego in partnering with us to develop creative careers training and pathways that will prepare at-risk youth in our community for sustainable employment.


Our Inspire Careers Youth Program, provides job skills training, paid work experience, job placement, as well as support services for low-income, disconnected youth that have faced setbacks like incarceration, unemployment, homelessness, poverty, and growing up in foster care. Through this program we are preparing these Opportunity Youth for careers in creative technologies such as, graphic design, web design, and multi-media through an “earn-to-learn” model. Careers in these creative fields are booming and expected to grow substantially over the next several years. Our aim is to equip youth with in-demand skills that prepare them for not only living wage jobs, but also multiple career pathways.

Our Inspire Youth Careers program will enhance participants’ earning potential and provide them with meaningful community employment experiences. System level work with key partners, including industry partners, will allow us to develop clearer paths to high wage, high demand jobs, while contributing to the Jacobs Center’s ability to fulfill our mission to strengthen education-to-career pathways, stimulate the local economy, and create a vibrant and thriving community.

This investment by The James Irvine Foundation will enable us to expand this work. We look forward to sharing with you what we learn along the way.



Jacobs Center Announces their Grantees of the Creative Placemaking Partners Program



Creative Placemaking is a simple concept that can transform communities. It is a philosophy that revolves around connecting people to public spaces through creative projects, building a deeper, more meaningful relationship between individuals and places, and instilling pride in their community.

At the Jacobs Center, we are strongly committed to promoting and supporting creative placemaking projects so residents of Southeastern San Diego can experience arts and culture in their neighborhood and share the pride they feel for their home with others.

Last year we released a call for applications for our 2017 Creative Placemaking Partnership Grant, for which we accepted proposals from artists and arts organizations who have great ideas for creative placemaking projects that fulfill two or more elements of our 2016-2017 Arts Strategy. Those elements are:

  • Activating Space: Using community spaces to bring people together in an innovative and interactive way.
  • Creative Capital for Emerging Artists and Arts Enterprises: Tapping into talented artists, makers, and creatives from the community.
  • Community Engagement Projects: Building a project and program that amplifies diverse voices and allows for dialogue surrounding issues.

We were excited to receive dozens of exciting, unique, and fascinating applications. After several rounds of evaluations and voting from our executive committee, we have chosen nine projects that represent the values we set forth in our Arts Strategy and we are sure will bring fresh and inventive arts to the Southeastern Community.

Here are the 2017 grantees:

  • Brazilian Carnaval and Family Arts Nights – Presented by Arts 4 Learning: Free events taught by professional artists who use art as a tool for engaging families and encourages literacy. It kicked off with the Brazilian Carnaval on March 26 and will follow with four Family Arts Nights at Malcolm X Library. Dates to be announced. Families will receive a free book at events.
  • The SOULcial – Presented by SOULcial Workers: A three-part reflective youth arts workshop series revolving around creative and performing arts to enhance self awareness and cultural competence. Participants will perform a live talk show that will present creative solutions to social issues.
  • Shock ‘N the Park – Presented by Culture Shock Dance Troupe: A free, family-friendly dance event bringing hip-hop performances on June 4.
  • Art Saves Lives: How Southeast Creates Artists – Presented by London Lane Productions: The project consists of a web series that will document short interviews featuring Southeastern San Diego artists, all shot in iconic locations in the community.
  • Home – Presented by So Say We All: A community storytelling project that will engage residents from or living in Southeastern San Diego in writing and performance workshops, with final pieces performed on air at KPBS and will be added to an anthology book on the project.
  • Art Cart – Presented by The Roots Factory: This mobile art project brings a cart equipped with screenprinting and audio equipment out into the community for pop up events that engage residents in art making.
  • Food Truck Nights – Presented by Diamond Business Association (BID): A series of pop-up food truck nights held at the Chollas Creek park next to Writerz Blok. The events will feature live music and entertainment as well as information booths from local organizations.
  • Poets & Painters Spoken Word and Graffiti Art Festival – Presented by the Jacobs Center: The annual festival highlights spoken word and graffiti artists and includes spoken word and graffiti competitions and performances from other dance and music artists.
  • Prism – Presented by Jacobs Center and Writerz Blok: Quarterly arts events held at Writerz Blok that showcase diverse local artists and themes.

Congratulations to all the recipients of the Creative Placemaking Partners program! We look forward to sharing these events with the community and telling the stories behind each one throughout the year.


Event: La Jolla Playhouse and Ping Chong + Company Present “South of the 8”


The La Jolla Playhouse and Ping Chong + Company presents South of the 8, a powerful theater piece featuring real stories from voices within the Southeastern San Diego community.

The participants, who went through a vigorous workshopping period, crafted their stories about life below the 8 freeway in San Diego, often considered the line that divides economic and wealth opportunity in our city.

From the La Jolla Playhouse website:

South of The 8 is a fascinating, interview-based work that explores issues of culture and identity in a specific local community, breaking down stereotypes by sharing the rich and diverse the stories of the people who live there. Following an intensive interview process, five individuals from neighborhoods south of the I-8 were selected to work with Ping Chong + Company and the Playhouse to create and perform an “opera for the spoken word,” based on their own narratives. This moving, non-traditional theatre piece showcases the real-life stories and experiences of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, shining a light on the unique character of communities South of The 8.

There are two showings this Saturday, April 1, at the City Heights Performance Annex. Tickets available at: lajollaplayhouse.org/south-of-the-8.


VIDEO: Move-In Day at Trolley Park Terrace


In October of 2016, residents began unpacking boxes and nesting in their new apartment at Trolley Park Terrace, the new, 52-unit affordable housing complex located next to the Euclid Avenue trolley station in Southeastern San Diego.

We are incredibly proud of this development for many reasons. It brings new, affordable housing to the underserved Diamond Neighborhoods, is LEED-Gold certified, was completed in 14 months under budget, offers English as a Second Language and financial literacy classes on the premises and many other reasons.

While these are certainly things to be proud of, what is most exciting is seeing Trolley Park Terrace become a home for many. We caught up with two new residents on Move In Day, who share their excitement and joy for their home. And we give you a tour of the property!


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