Ilene Garcia, a teenage student at the STEM Academy in Hollywood, drew loud cheers when she spoke of her experience growing up poor in Los Angeles. Born to a single mother who has worked as a janitor in the city for two decades, Garcia said her family has been forced to move at least five times in recent years while struggling to cover rent.
One benefit of this 3-year long relationship we’ve had with YPI is the relationship that we’ve been able to build with service providers through the Promise Neighborhood initiative and at the FamilySource Center. Because they are the ones out that are out there interfacing with the community all day long every single day. And so what that means is that so many people are getting legal services that they wouldn’t have gotten if they hadn’t come through YPI.
“They helped me want something better for my future. They helped me see that I could do bigger and better things.”
“I’m an 18-year-old Guatemalan who grew up in Hollywood. Not in the famous Hollywood Hills, but in the slums of Hollywood. Below where all the stars live. I grew up with a single mother and a younger 15-year-old brother. I grew up poor, scared and afraid. But most importantly, I grew up as a fighter.”
“To me, a better world is that place where everybody can live out their dreams. It’s the place they think of when they close their eyes, where every barrier that holds them back have dissolved away. Here, life’s challenges that confront us are the same obstacles we’ve collectively overcome. In this world, there’s no racism, no sexism, no poverty—nothing to hold us back. And at the end of the day, we can determine our own fates—our own destinies—and we can build something new that no one has ever seen before.”
“The school is run democratically. Students are teachers, and teachers are students, and there’s a lot that we learn from one another. That approach, one of humility, allows us to grow, reflect and innovate. We leave the ego at the door and stay open to new ideas.”
Paul Hirsch, Principal of STEM Academy of Hollywood, and three of his best friends who are teachers there — Esther Dabagyan, Jason Doerr, and Tamara Cogan — started the school in 2009. Paul became Principal in the 2012 – 2013 school year, leading the turnaround in the graduation rate from the early years of just over 50% to now more than 90%.”
“A better world is a one where people are given the opportunity to empower themselves. YPI goes out into neighborhoods and reaches out not only to the future of the city, but generations of future leaders who are going to shape the way that our society is going to be 20 or 30 years from now.”
“Through YPI, I’ve been able to access resources I never thought I’d be capable of receiving, such as SAT Prep and one-on-one counseling to help apply to college. Through the love and courage of their staff, I’ve been able to grow not only academically but personally.”
Voices of YPI: “I took a picture of my college admissions and sent it to my parents. And another person who I sent the picture to was one of my college ambassadors. Her name is Sofia. I owe everything to her because she really helped me dig into my story. She’s been a huge part of my success.”
“YPI isn’t only present here in the school, it’s actually affecting our households. My nephews want to go to college now, too.”
For most of his childhood, Christian lived with his family in a house near LAX with no electricity or gas. He recalls being bullied through middle school about the color of his skin, and his family working to make ends meet. Freshman year of high school, Christian and his father were waking up at 5 a.m. every day to catch the bus to school. On those mornings, his father insisted that Christian create a better life for himself.