This summer, Blue Shield of California supported 10 nonprofits that are making a transformational impact through youth social justice work. We spoke with leaders from three of the organizations and asked them to share their vision for the work ahead.
A community hub for growth and development
Rooted in the historically Black neighborhood of South San Diego, the Blue Heart Foundation builds community by providing a secure and equitable path to higher education, emotional health and character development for young Black men.
Last year its visionary co-founder, Tracy Morris, tragically and unexpectedly passed away after nearly a decade of leadership. Morris and his wife and co-founder, April Ray Morris, had been in the midst of spearheading an ambitious project to build a new community hub for the foundation’s students. They envisioned a safe, welcoming, state-of-the-art gathering place where young Black men would come to grow and develop themselves.
Now, the Morrises' original vision will soon come to life under the organization’s new leadership, his close friend, Mathew Gordon. The investment from Blue Shield of California was the final piece of funding needed to complete construction.
“We’re arming our young guys with the tools and knowledge needed to succeed,” said Gordon. “We help these young men get to that next stage of their lives, be the best versions of themselves, take what they learn at institutions of higher learning, come back and build and establish roots right here in Southeast San Diego. We’re so proud of them.”
To date, the Blue Heart Foundation has mentored over 500 young men, and 100% of their students earn acceptance to college — with an average of 20 acceptance letters per student.
Serving the next generation of scholars
Central Valley Scholars is a youth-led, community-based and community-minded organization that empowers students to make their educational dreams a reality.
When founder and CEO Cristina Piña was applying to college, her applications for local scholarships were rejected, and she was told in no uncertain terms that it was because of her LGBTQ+ identity. Her experience underscored the many forms of access, assistance and financial resources being systematically denied to students from the Central Valley for various reasons.
“A lot of times in rural communities in the Central Valley, we're told that we have to get out of here in order to make it and in order to succeed,” said Piña. “But we want to bring opportunities and resources here.”
Blue Shield’s investment will support the Central Valley Scholars’ flagship offering, the 10-month “Themtorship Program,” which supports and celebrates students during their undergraduate application process. Recognizing the many systemic barriers and oppressive spaces their students face when applying to college, the program provides the tools, information and support students need to submit successful applications — and the space for them to dream of the universities they deserve.
“You sharing that you're queer, first generation, low income, undocumented, formerly incarcerated, a student parent — all the identities in between — those are things that we find as powerful and valuable,” said Piña. “You shouldn't have to leave our communities and our cultures and our history and our ancestry in order to be successful.”
Creative youth development through dance
TranscenDANCE is a nationally recognized creative youth development organization that works with young people, ages 4-24, in San Diego.
“Research shows that the creative arts are such a spark for young people,” said Cat Corral, co-founder and executive/artistic director at transcenDANCE. “It activates the affirmation of their identity, helps them feel seen, heard and valued, and creates a sense of belonging. As a performing arts organization, we’re able to tap into that spark.”
Blue Shield’s investment will support transcenDANCE’s programming, which includes curriculum to support social emotional resiliency and social change, leadership development and life skills training, and college and career coaching — plus a myriad of other opportunities for students to perform and step into their power as artists.
“Together, we’re creating content and curriculum that taps into young people’s lived experience,” said Corral. “It taps into what they see happening in their community, and it gives them a platform in which they get to turn their creative expression into a hope — a vision about the change they'd like to see.”
Empowering youth and community resilience
Antoinette Mayer, vice president of Corporate Citizenship for Blue Shield of California, shared why this initiative is so important to us. “We support organizations that equip underserved youth with resources and networks so they can manage adversities that affect their mental health,” said Mayer. “These nonprofit organizations are doing powerful work that’s helping young people heal from trauma and thrive within their communities — and beyond.”
The 10 nonprofit beneficiaries supported by Blue Shield’s 2023 youth social justice investments included: A Reason to Survive, Backcountry Communities Thriving, Blue Heart Foundation, Central Valley Scholars, Empowering Marginalized Asian Communities, Just in Time for Foster Youth, North County Lifeline, Open Heart Leaders, Raising Youth Resilience, and transcenDANCE.
To learn more about Blue Shield of California’s Corporate Citizenship efforts, visit citizenship.blueshieldca.com