Bryant Street Garage funds teen projects

Written by Evalyn Li

Middle school students in Financial Literacy for Youth (FLY) work on posters for the carnival event they held on Nov. 6. Courtesy of Jose Perez.

Many students have used Bryant Street Garage Fund (BSGF) to receive funding, mentorship and resources for their projects. A City of Palo Alto program, BSGF began in 2001 when the city council voted to use the rental revenues from a city-owned property under the name Bryant Street Teen Center. It is currently a gym, and 75 percent of the profits go towards providing mini-grants of up to $1,000 to support teen ideas for events or programs.

Teen program specialist Jose Perez, who is in charge working directly with teens and their ideas in applying for mini-grants, explained that BSGF offers a unique opportunity to local teens. “Being in Palo Alto, [students] should take advantage of [the grant program] because it’s here for you, and we’re here to help you,” Perez said. “Your ideas are so valuable, and we want you to know we value your ideas and we want to help you make them happen.”

Junior Kevin Ji, who has worked with BSGF on his project Financial Literacy for Youth (FLY), believes that the program is an incubator for teens’ ideas. “The program and the city do not really get any reward other than simply doing good for the community; that’s why it’s based in the community services department because any good that any of these programs bring doesn’t bring revenue back to the city,” Ji said. “It adds to the community.”

Perez receives mini-grant ideas through online applications, arranges meetings to discuss the proposed idea and assists students in creating a specific proposal and budget plan. Once the proposal and budget forms are complete, the Teen Services committee, which oversees the libraries’ art, theatre and community centers, reviews the submission for approval. Perez explains it’s his personal goal to help all students’ ideas come to life. “It’s super easy, and a lot of teens don’t know that,” Perez said. “Typically, we fund every proposal, and if it’s not approved at first, I go back and recommend changes to the teen(s) to make sure it gets funded.”

Co-manager of FLY junior Janis Iourovitski emphasizes that the program’s dedication to funding all submissions has helped BSGF gain experience in holding events. As a result, it helps teens like Iourovitski plan events themselves. “A lot of people think it takes a lot of work to apply and that they are super selective, but they are not very selective if you have an idea you can support and back up,” Iourovitski said. “It’s accessible to all teens that want to receive funding and support.”

Junior Jady Tian, who received a mini-grant for her photography fundraiser “Eyes” this October, says both the mentorship and financial sup- port helped her and her co-planners learn more from the process. She believes many teens can identify with having an idea, but lack the funds to actually see a project through. “Jose helped us finalize our prices and made sure everything was accurate and precise in our budget plan,” Tian said. “I recommend BSGF because it’s a way to test your idea and get funding because it has a lot of community resources which you cannot get if you don’t participate in it.”

Students in Braille Without Borders present their photo gallery to art patrons in the Mitchell Park Community Center. Courtesy of Jady Tian.
Students in Braille Without Borders present their photo gallery to art patrons in the Mitchell Park Community Center. Courtesy of Jady Tian.

Perez feels that allocating funds for teen projects provides leadership re- sources not typically accessible to teens. BSGF funded the team that produced the documentary “Unmasked,” which has held three screenings in Palo Alto and was recently screened at the Big Asian Los Angeles Cinema Festival. “They created an impact, got the word out and sparked that dialogue,” Perez said. “The cool thing about it was that creating a dialogue was their [initial] goal, and they were so happy when they accomplished it.”

The Palo Alto Youth Council also worked with BSGF to fund PA Roots, a community-wide literary magazine run by Palo Alto students.

Ji and Iourovitski have seen their program expand since its inception. They recently held an event in November allowing elementary school students to apply financial concepts they learn through the FLY program in an innovative way—creating their own carnival. Only ten students attended their first event, but 40 students attended their most recent one. “I think that definitely it’s not just the money that helps, but the mentorship that I get from Jose and other adults that work there [that help as well],” Ji said.