WAWS Spotlight: Domminiece Willis

An image of Domminiece Willis standing at the 2018 WAWS Award Ceremony.

An image of Domminiece Willis standing at the 2018 WAWS Award Ceremony.

“Words Alive is a home away from home to me. My experience with Words Alive has affected me in so many positive ways. I have transitioned more gracefully into adulthood and have found myself stepping more outside my comfort zone and experiences new things.”

The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program awards scholarships to participants in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group to support them in their pursuit of higher education at the college or vocational level. Unlike other scholarship programs, which typically fund only tuition, books and educational supplies, each recipient is eligible to receive funds to cover the cost of rent, food, childcare, clothing, travel and other living expenses. Additionally, the program matches each recipient with a mentor. Student and mentor meet regularly throughout the school year, and the mentors provide guidance, direction, and often, a shoulder to lean on.

Let’s hear more from Antonise!

Name: Domminiece Willis

Age: 27

College: San Diego State University

Degree (with area of study): Child Development

High School: Monarch School

Mentor: Karen Ladner

How did you first get involved with Words Alive?

I first got involved with Words Alive through the book club when I was going to Monarch school back when it was at the Little Italy campus.

How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

Words Alive became more than just a scholarship to me. It became therapy, a resource center, a study hall, an adventure, a place where I know that everyone has my best interest at heart and will go above and beyond to make sure my every need was met. Words Alive is a home away from home to me. My experience with Words Alive has affected me in so many positive ways. I have transitioned more gracefully into adulthood and have found myself stepping more outside my comfort zone and experiences new things.

What have you accomplished this year that you are most proud of?

I would have to say that this year I am most proud of finishing up the Spring Semester at State with A’s and B’s. It was difficult, but I told myself that I did not want anything lower than a B and I made it happen. Shooting for all A’s in the Fall!

Tell us about your favorite college memory.

My favorite college memory I would have to say was my orientation day at SDSU. I remember sitting in the Child and Family Development section and just thinking “Wow, I really did it. I’m here”.

What are you currently reading?

Girls Like Me - by Lola Stvil.



Why Did We Expand to Serve Early Readers?

An image of five of our Read Aloud participants excitedly holding up their new books!

An image of five of our Read Aloud participants excitedly holding up their new books!

As Words Alive is celebrating its 20th year of serving San Diego, we’re taking a look back to reflect on how we’ve grown as an organization and adapted to the needs of our community.

Words Alive was founded in 1999 by Leslye Lyons on the belief that if you value reading and understand its fundamental connection to all aspects of your life, then you will be better equipped to thrive as a lifelong learner and productive member of your community! Words Alive started out first and foremost by working with teens. Leslye and a team of volunteers had the idea to create a book club program for teenagers who were facing extraordinary circumstances such as homelessness, teen parenting, and impact by the justice system. This idea would eventually become our Adolescent Book Group (ABG), which still runs today.

Eventually, Words Alive moved to work with Pre K - 3rd graders by developing an integrated read-aloud program for preschoolers! Why did we decide to expand our programming to include early readers? Amanda Bonds, Program Director, explains:

“Taking a cue from the educators among the early members of our Board of Directors, we recognized that expanding our programs to serve Preschool through 3rd grade was an important way to support young minds during a critical window of reading development. After all, we wouldn’t need to close a gap in reading engagement and achievement, if we did our part to help ensure that one never opened.”

It is important for young children to be exposed to reading and to experience being read aloud to. According to the Child’s Bureau, “Reading to young children is proven to improve and help along the process of cognitive development… Reading daily to young children, starting in infancy, can help with language acquisition and literacy skills. This is because reading to your children in the earliest months stimulates the part of the brain that allows them to understand the meaning of language and helps build key language, literacy and social skills.”

Here at Words Alive, our Read Aloud program has trained volunteers to read aloud each week to thousands of children from underserved communities at early childhood education and Title 1 - eligible elementary school sites across San Diego!

Sources:

https://www.all4kids.org/2017/03/03/importance-reading-children/



WAWS Spotlight: Antonise Stewart

An image of Antonise Stewart standing at the podium at the 2018 WAWS Award Ceremony.

An image of Antonise Stewart standing at the podium at the 2018 WAWS Award Ceremony.

“My name is Antonise Stewart, I'm 22 years old and my dream is to be a veterinarian.”

The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program awards scholarships to participants in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group to support them in their pursuit of higher education at the college or vocational level. Unlike other scholarship programs, which typically fund only tuition, books and educational supplies, each recipient is eligible to receive funds to cover the cost of rent, food, childcare, clothing, travel and other living expenses. Additionally, the program matches each recipient with a mentor. Student and mentor meet regularly throughout the school year, and the mentors provide guidance, direction, and often, a shoulder to lean on.

Let’s hear more from Antonise!

Name: Antonise Stewart

Age: 22

College: San Diego City College

Degree (with area of study): Biology

High School: Portland High School

Mentor: Brittany Jackson

How did you first get involved with Words Alive?

I first got involved with Words Alive when I first heard about it from my sister, who is an alumna from Words Alive.

How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

So far it's a little overwhelming because it's my first time being involved and I'm still learning about Words Alive.

What have you accomplished this year that you are most proud of?

What I accomplished this year that I'm most proud of is finally deciding my major of being a veterinarian.

Tell us about your favorite college memory.

My favorite college memory was from my Biology class, when we went to the zoo as part of the class we had a self-guided scavenger hunt.

What are you currently reading?

What I'm reading right now is a book called The Slave Community about how the slaves lived and interacted in slavery.

Spotlight on Sue Britt: The Artist Behind "The Radius of All of Us"

An image of Sue Britt smiling into the camera.

An image of Sue Britt smiling into the camera.

At Words Alive, we strive to inspire young people to read by showing them how words on a page can relate to their own lives and even transform into something new. Once a year, we welcome our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) students to participate in our Art & Lit Project, a program-wide project that enhances the reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in the book and their own environment.

This year’s project, called "The Radius of All of Us" is a response to The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt. This unique exhibition is designed by community artist Sue Britt, facilitated by Words Alive, and created by students attending alternative schools from North County to the border!

Sue Britt is a San Diego paper artist who has developed a technique she calls Paper Tapestry. Her highly textured work is a result of layering, carving, and weaving substraights wrapped in paper to create highly textured landscapes. Her landscapes are full of motion. That motion is inspired by hiking and influenced by reading and thinking about change in the landscape over seasons, years, or millennia. She works and shows her art in Studio 34A in the Spanish Village Art Center and in festivals throughout California.

Sue is delighted to take part in the Words Alive Art & Lit Exhibit, tying together her love of reading and her love of creating. A project like this allows her to step outside her usual medium and approach the project with the experience of the student in mind, giving them a way to express themselves both individually and as part of a group. Art, both in book and visual forms, can be a powerful way to examine a life, an experience, an idea, and give the public a window into those conversations.

Sue heard about Words Alive through friends who sit on the board and by attending the Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser for multiple years. She fell in love with our mission and truly believes that reading opens doors for people. She was excited to work with Words Alive because she knows that art would be a new way for these students to think about what they were reading. “Visual art allows for the same finding of meaning as words do in a book.”

An image of Sue Britt talking with students from Lindsay Community School as they work on their art.

An image of Sue Britt talking with students from Lindsay Community School as they work on their art.

The Radius of All of Us is about perception. The characters in The Radius of Us perceive and are perceived in ways that evolve as their stories and personalities are better known to others. Perceptions and the words we use to describe other people and ourselves create the radius of each of us; each word forming a boundary of limitations.

Sue said that her own perceptions were challenged in an interaction with one particular student at Monarch School. With this one particular student, Sue went over to her and poured the “proper” amount of alcohol ink on her piece, intending to help her complete the art correctly. The student percieved this act as her vision being interrupted and she told Sue, not intimidated, “Now this art is yours.” For Sue, this was a moment of learning that really stood out to her throughout this process. She realized that although she had a vision for this piece and was thinking about it as a process for the students to follow and execute, for the students this was all about personal expression. They aren’t often allowed to express themselves through art and this was a real chance for them to pour themselves onto the page. Sue apologized to the student and got her a new piece of paper to start over with.

We were so thankful to work with Sue on this art project and to see her vision come to life through the creativity of our students. Join us from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 5th at the San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in San Diego to see the final pieces of artwork in person! RSVP for the event here. Learn more about Sue Britt here.


In conjunction with this project, and in partnership with Jewish Family Service, we are collecting donations of new socks and underwear for Jewish Family Service’s new shelter for asylum seekers. Please donate new socks and underwear for children in all sizes and for adults in size small. Bring items to the Words Alive office through June 5 or to the exhibition at San Diego Art Institute.




WAWS Spotlight: Daimeon Rodriguez

An image of Daimeon Rodriguez with his award at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

An image of Daimeon Rodriguez with his award at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

Daimeon is a third time WAWS recipient currently studying Computer Engineering at San Diego City College with hopes of working at Google. Daimeon works with Phi Theta Kappa.

The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program awards scholarships to participants in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group to support them in their pursuit of higher education at the college or vocational level. Unlike other scholarship programs, which typically fund only tuition, books and educational supplies, each recipient is eligible to receive funds to cover the cost of rent, food, childcare, clothing, travel and other living expenses. Additionally, the program matches each recipient with a mentor. Student and mentor meet regularly throughout the school year, and the mentors provide guidance, direction, and often, a shoulder to lean on.

Let’s hear more from Daimeon!

Name: Daimeon Rodriguez

Age: 20

College: San Diego City College

Degree (with area of study): Computer Engineering

High School: La Mesa Summit

Mentor: David Gimbel

How did you first get involved with Words Alive?

Through La Mesa blended as a participant in the Adolescent Book Group.

How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

It has affected me by allowing more opportunities for me to take; allowing more achievements.

What have you accomplished this year that you are most proud of?

I'm most proud of my recent semester of getting an overall GPA of 3.66, also getting scholarships from Words Alive and the Mahatma Gandhi scholarship.

Tell us about your favorite college memory.

My favorite college memory was when I received my first GPA above a 2.5, now it's a 3.66.

What are you currently reading?

The Clouds of Glory.

Change the Story of Your Life: Bijan Nowroozian

This post is part of our series in celebration of Words Alive’s 20th anniversary and our new brand promise: Change the Story of Your Life. Whether you are a donor, volunteer, participant, or all the above, Words Alive has a meaningful impact on your life story. Follow this link to get involved in the next 20 years of Words Alive.

An image of Bijan teaching fellow volunteers about a strategy he uses in ABG sessions.

An image of Bijan teaching fellow volunteers about a strategy he uses in ABG sessions.

After graduating from college with a Bachelors in English Education, I pursued my education in Graduate School while working for the public library. As time went by, I felt that all of the skills I learned were waning. Furthermore, I had always wanted to work with children who came from tough backgrounds, as a way to give back to those who helped me throughout my childhood.

You see, a major reason I have earned 3 college degrees, have a 4.0 GPA in graduate school, and plan to earn a PhD afterwards, is due to all the teachers and volunteers at my school who never let me think less of what I can achieve. I grew up in one of the lowest income and highest gang-ridden neighborhoods of East County San Diego. Throughout my youth, I was beaten up for "talking too smart," robbed of the little lunch money I had, witnessed friends be shot/killed, and had guns put to my head more times than helmets were. No matter what my situation was, it was the teachers, school volunteers, and librarians around me that instilled a belief that where I came from would never define who I was as a person.

This belief holds steadfast in everything I do as an adult today. Every time I have the honor of entering a classroom full of amazing and brilliant children who are eager to learn, it fills me with so much joy. Through Words Alive, I've been able to use a variety of amazing literary works to guide the next generation in literary, social, and personal development. Furthermore, I've been able to learn more about myself and my own passion for helping others. If I can make any impact on these children's lives, however small, everything will have been worth it. 

Words Alive in many ways has given me a new voice to connect with children who may have shared similarly hard upbringings as my own. And with Words Alive, I'll be able to show these children that they have their own voice, and the world is eager to hear it.

Art & Lit Project: Blackout Poetry

By Liz Delaney, Social Media Intern

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At Words Alive, we strive to inspire young people to read by showing them how words on a page can relate to their own lives and even transform into something new. Once a year, we welcome our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) students to participate in our Art & Lit Project, a program-wide project that enhances the reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in the book and their own environment.

This year’s project, called "The Radius of All of Us" is a response to The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt. This unique exhibition is designed by community artist Sue Britt, facilitated by Words Alive, and created by students attending alternative schools from North County to the border!

Alongside the art project, ABG students made new meaning from the book’s pages by creating blackout poems. In The Radius of Us, we learn that art is a powerful tool for expression from one character who refuses to speak after his traumatic journey to the U.S.; and the poetry here is designed in black and white to honor the illustration style he used to tell his story.

Blackout poetry is a transformative creative writing process. John DePasquale from Scholastic states, “the words for blackout poems are already written on the page, but it’s up to the blackout poet to bring new meaning and life to these words... Using the pages of an existing text, blackout poets isolate then piece together single words or short phrases from these texts to create lyrical masterpieces.”

In this collection, you’ll find an array of poems written from the words of the same story – a reflection of the way in which we all perceive the world around us differently. A few of their poems can be seen above and some of our favorites read:

“I felt alone through the dark/heaviness pressed down on me/I wanted rest./I left/I am free”

“I’m struggling/my heart is racing/my eyes are blurring/I feel the/p/a/i/n”

“beautiful/love/my heart/is insane”

Join us from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 5th at the San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in San Diego to see these poem and the student’s art work in person! RSVP for the event here.


In conjunction with this project, and in partnership with Jewish Family Service, we are collecting donations of new socks and underwear for Jewish Family Service’s new shelter for asylum seekers. Please donate new socks and underwear for children in all sizes and for adults in size small. Bring items to the Words Alive office through June 5 or to the exhibition at San Diego Art Institute.





A Children's Day Partnership!

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Since 1991 Paradise Galleries has been a leader in bringing the magic of award winning dolls to collectors around the world. They are passionate about creating dolls that stir your spirit, warm your heart, and nurture your soul.

We are so honored that Paradise Galleries chose Words Alive to partner with for International Children’s Day! International Children's Day, a recognized United Nations holiday, is celebrated annually on June 9th. It is a day to recognize and celebrate all children. 

Meredith, a team member at Paradise Galleries, interned for Words Alive while in college in San Diego. She witnessed first-hand the impact of Words Alive on the lives of many children and thought we were a perfect fit for this partnership!

Paradise Galleries, in honor of International Children’s Day and their belief in the work we’re doing here at Words Alive, will donate $10 of each sale of their special Children’s Day doll to Words Alive!

Purchase here: https://www.paradisegalleries.com/products/realistic-toddler-filipino-doll-childrens-day

Art & Lit Project: Doing Our Small Part to Help Asylum Seekers

By Tait Longhi, Blog Intern & Sara Mortensen, Communications Manager

Image of a student holding up the welcome cards she wrote to asylum seekers.

Image of a student holding up the welcome cards she wrote to asylum seekers.

Every year, Words Alive facilitates an art project with our teen students. “The Radius of All of Us” is a unique exhibition inspired by Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us, designed by community artist Sue Britt, facilitated by Words Alive, and created by students attending alternative schools from North County to the border. Through creative writing and art, students connect the novel to the world as they explore themes of perception and transformation and grapple with the complex issues of trauma and immigration.

In The Radius of Us, Phoenix, one of the main protagonists, is an asylum seeker from El Salvador. He fled his home country due to gang violence and is looking for a new start for himself and his younger brother. As we connect Phoenix’s immigration experience in The Radius of Us to what’s happening in our world, we are doing our small part to help those seeking asylum in our community.

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Working alongside Jewish Family Service, we’re collecting donations of new socks and underwear — the items most requested by people crossing the border. All youth sizes and adult size small are needed. The clothing will benefit families staying at the Jewish Family Service shelter for asylum seekers. Jewish Family Service is a “client-centered, impact-driven organization working to build a stronger, healthier, more resilient San Diego “ that makes a “difference in the lives of more than 32,000 people every year”. These donations are extremely important and needed due to the fact that these people are trying to start a new life in a new country.

In addition, students at many of our classrooms are writing welcome letters to refugees and asylum seekers. In The Radius of Us, Phoenix has mixed experiences when he comes to the United States. He is welcomed into the home of Sally and Amanda while at the same time he is seen as suspicious and dangerous by other members of the community. By writing these welcome letters, students will be helping to make refugees and asylum seekers coming through the San Diego border know that there are people who are rooting for them to succeed in the United States and that there are people who are happy that they are here.

At Words Alive, we are proud of our students for taking part in this project to help others. Please donate today if you can! We are accepting sock and underwear donations at the Words Alive office until June 4th. You can also donate at our Art & Lit Exhibit, where you can see our student’s final art projects. Join us from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5th at the San Diego Art Institute.

Announcing the 2019-2020 Words Alive Westreich Scholars!

“I want to become a school counselor to help other youth understand the importance of education… As a school counselor, I will be able to counsel students about the power of their choices and teach them the same skills that helped me to succeed. The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship will help me to further my education and effectively use my personal experiences to relate to students.”
Brittany Jackson, Words Alive Westreich Scholar & Mentor

An image of three of our scholars at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony: Antonise Stewart (left), Domminiece Willis (middle), and Brittany Jackson (right).

An image of three of our scholars at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony: Antonise Stewart (left), Domminiece Willis (middle), and Brittany Jackson (right).

Here at Words Alive, we are incredibly excited to announce our Words Alive Westreich Scholars for the 2019-2020 school year! The transition from high school to college is difficult enough as it is, but when you have to navigate housing and food insecurity, child care, a lack of positive adult mentors, and much more, succeeding in school becomes that much harder. We all deserve to pursue our passions through education, and all our our scholars exemplify how a little support can go a long way.

Brittany Jackson was a Words Alive Westreich Scholar all throughout her time at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She developed a strong relationship with her Words Alive mentor, Sarah Archibald, who helped her along the way. She graduated, came back to San Diego, and then started volunteering with us as a mentor. Now, as she pursues her Masters at the University of San Diego, she has become a Words Alive first by being both a scholar and a mentor in the program!

Lexi, Zaphire, and Domminiece all graduated with Associate’s degrees last May and all started at San Diego State University this past fall. Just like the transition from high school to community college, the transition from community college to a four-year university presents its own challenges. They all struggled in their own ways but in their struggle learned more about themselves and what they needed to do to succeed. Along the way, our WAWS workshops provided support in terms of professional and personal development, and helped them learned skills such as time management, networking, and financial literacy.

Janett, one of our first-year scholars, went back to high school in her early 20s and is now earning her diploma. She is dedicated to using her lived experiences to relate to students and guide them on a positive path as a school counselor.

Each one of our scholars has a story like this — full of perseverance, passion, and determination. With help from the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship through financial, professional development, and mentor support, we are so excited to see what they do in their next chapter.

Learn more about each one of our scholars below!

Paulina Aguilar-Lino is a returning scholar and a student at Southwestern College. She is studying Recording Arts & Technology.

“The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship has helped me greatly as well in remaining determined to accomplish my goals. I’ve learned that all I really need is within my heart and my heart is always with my family.”

Zaphire Alonso is a returning scholar and a student at San Diego State University. She is studying Social Work.

“This experience showed me that I am determined and capable of overcoming any adversity in my life. The sensation of my future being in limbo helped me find solutions and manage the problem.”

Rose Gonzalez is a returning scholar and a student at San Diego State University. She is studying Criminal Justice.

“I have learned through this experience not to take my education and the opportunities offered to me for granted, such as my Guardian Scholars and Words Alive Westreich Scholarships. I am committed to succeeding in my academic work.”

Diana Gonzalez-Soto is a returning scholar and a student at San Diego City College. She is studying English.

“I learned that I possess the skills of leadership, advocacy, communication, collaboration, determination and resilience. I believe my story is unique, I know my experience is not common. This experience taught me that all my roles in society, student, mother, social justice activist, give me the qualifications to help build a better world and pave the way for the next generation.”

Ulises Izucar is a returning scholar and a student at Point Loma Nazarene University. He is studying Graphic Design with an Illustration Concentration.

“I learned how to handle myself better and how to reach out to friends and mentors. I learned to speak up and ask for help when I need it and not to be ashamed of it.”

Brittany Jackson is a returning scholar and is pursuing her Masters at the University of San Diego. She is studying School Counseling, PPS.

“I grew up in an environment that glorified gangs and drugs over an education… An education taught me critical thinking skills I need to succeed, not only in school, but also in life. For example, school taught me that I have an aptitude for helping others, and I am happiest when I am doing so.”

Lexi Martinez is a returning scholar and a student at San Diego State University. She is studying Social Work.

“One resource provided by the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship that I am eternally grateful for is our mentors. At this point in my semester I turned to Sarah, my amazing mentor, for guidance… With Sarah’s help we made a set of guidelines for a more successful semester.”

Itzel Nuñez is a returning scholar and a student at San Diego City College. She is studying Administration of Justice/Paralegal.

“This experience taught me an important life lesson: to take risks on opportunities even though I believe I am not qualified.”

Janett Penaloza is a first-year scholar and a student at San Diego City College. She is studying Counseling and Therapy.

“There are too many youth in the neighborhood who feel and believe they are alone in their struggles. They are not. This is why I must give back and be a part of society to make a positive change. I have persevered, I am motivated, I am focused, I believe in myself because education had taught me that knowledge is power and that power is a positive change.”

Daimeon Rodriguez is a returning scholar and a student at San Diego City College. He is studying Software and Computer Engineering.

“I believe I have improved and have more purpose moving forward to a bright, happy, prosperous future with whatever comes my way.”

Esther Servin is a first-year scholar and a student at Palomar College. She is studying Mechanics.

“I had an epiphany and realized that the things that I wanted to do were not a smart way to move forward and that I had to do something so that my children could gain more than street life knowledge… I learned that attending school could get me out of the street life and getting an education could help my community.”

Lanyra Smith is a first-year scholar and a student at San Diego City College. She is studying Psychology.

“I am firmly committed at this point to pursuing a career in the field of psychology… I know that I am passionate about mental health and dedicated to giving back to my people and my community.”

Antonise Stewart is a returning scholar and a student at San Diego City College. She is studying Information Security.

“It may be scary, I may stumble along the way but I can’t always waste my life worrying about the what ifs. Helping that student, I acknowledged that fear was my weakness and once knowing that I can grow from this flaw to become a stronger, better me.”

Andrea Vasquez is a first-year scholar and a student at Grossmont. She is studying Biology.

“I know that becoming a doctor won’t be easy, but I also know that it can be done if I am committed to accomplishing my goal… This entire process will take quite some time but I’m ready to go through with it until the very end if it means making myself, my sisters, and, most importantly, my mom proud.”

Domminiece Willis is a returning scholar and a student at San Diego State University. She is studying Child Development.

“I have grown to learn that despite my hardships, I have achieved so much greatness. The odds have been against me, and I have overcome them…My sun will always shine at the end of the rainstorms and the greater my struggles, the more glorious my triumphs will be.”

To recognize the 2019-2020 scholarship recipients, Words Alive will host its annual Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Awards Ceremony from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4 at San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd. in downtown San Diego. Mark your calendars and join us in celebrating these incredible scholars!