Grants Support Yesler Terrace Employment Program for Teens

Written by Laura Paskin
December 10, 2013

The Yesler Terrace Youth Media Program received more than $40,000 in grants to support its work with youth. Founded by Photography Professor Claire Garoutte and community partners Youth in Focus, RecTech, and Multimedia Resources and Training Institute, the program provides summer employment for teens engaged in video, photography, and documentary projects focused on the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace. Fine Arts Department students serve as summer interns with the project.

Yesler Terrace, a public housing complex built between 1941 and 1943, is a highly diverse community located just east of Seattle’s downtown. On average, its residents earn less than 30% of the city’s median income. Redevelopment is replacing existing buildings with a mixed-income community.

“The program was started as a direct response to community requests to provide safe, educational, multi-week, paid internships for teens at Yesler Terrace,” Garoutte said. “More than job training, this documentation of the redevelopment and its impact on the community has provided a visible platform for community concerns that can influence the development of communal areas, such as parks, gardens, and commercial spaces, that serve the rich cultural diversity of the Yesler Terrace neighborhood.”

Grants received from Humanities Washington, the City of Seattle Neighborhood Matching Fund, and the City of Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs will enable the program to expand from 6 to 7 weeks and from 12 to 18 teens. The program will also operate year-round with tutoring and mentoring in addition to media-related activities.

After the 2012 program, Seattle Housing Authority executives met with youth participants seeking improved communication. During the 2013 session, Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith invited the youth to City Hall for a roundtable discussion. Representatives from Seattle Housing Authority, which is redeveloping the complex, have requested that resident youth participate in the documentation of the process year-round in recognition of the value of this community-based engagement.

“From initial Seattle University funding, the program has grown and developed into a history program where students learn documentary production and interview techniques in addition to teamwork and leadership skills,” said Seattle University Grants Manager Debra Webb, MFA ’13. “Most importantly, the students learn the importance of their own voices and agency while representing a shared community voice.”

Youth participants Michle Alem and Yohanna Gebregiorgi represent the benefits of the program:

“I learned to use photography, video and journalism, and I was able to make my voice heard,” said Michle Alem. “With this set of skills, I can reach a broader group of people and share my ideas with other teens. I learned more about my community during this six-week program than I had learned during the six years that I have lived in Yesler Terrace.”

 “I know that I have a voice, and I’ve learned that this community will face a lot of big changes because of the redevelopment,” Yohanna Gebregiorgi noted. “This makes me want to share my opinions, and let people hear from a youth’s perspective.”

Garoutte joined the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences in 2007. She is the author of Matter of Trust (1996, Konkursbuch, Germany) and co-author with Anneke Wambaugh of Crossing the Water: A Photographic Path to the Afro-Cuban Spirit World (2007, Duke University Press, Durham, SC). She has worked extensively in Cuba since 1994 and her work has been exhibited internationally.

The College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college in Seattle University, offers 42 major and 37 minor undergraduate degrees and 6 master's degrees, including an MFA in Arts Leadership.