Participants in the Photo VPR project attend an orientation session. Photo provided by New Connections of South King County.

N2N Spotlight Spring 2022: New Connections of South King County

A fresh start for justice-involved youth, adults, and families.

By: Aileen Balahadia, N2N Program Consultant

New Connections has a 20-year history of serving the Kent and the South King County communities. Their mission is to connect justice-involved youth, adults, and families for a fresh start with education and resources. Justice-involved youth are those who have been incarcerated or impacted by the criminal justice system. In 2021, Neighbor 2 Neighbor (N2N) provided funding to New Connections to support their peer circles called “Connect to Coffee.” During these meetings, mentors guided people exiting the incarceration system and assisted them as they reentered their community. This year, the group hopes to use N2N funds to reach Latinx youth at risk of entering the criminal justice system through an even more creative and culture-based venture.

The New Connections VPR (Violence, Peace and Restoration) Project is part of their signature “Fresh Start” program for youth. This project uses photography as a medium for youth in South King County to document their dual experiences of peace and violence, restore connections to their community, and channel their collective voice to reflect upon and communicate issues of critical concern to their own communities. Focusing specifically on Latinx youth, program participants will learn the basics of photography, such as composition, and receive mentoring from those with similar lived experiences.

New Executive Director David Lujano is leading this program, alongside board members Sandra and Dario Blanco who will serve in an advisory capacity. For all of them, this program is about addressing the disparities that exist for Latinx youth in Kent and beyond.

“Unengaged youth are more likely to become involved in gangs and gun violence,” David shared. “This program is about helping youth connect to community and supporting their journeys to become better versions of themselves.”

New Connections feels prepared to lead this effort thanks, in part, to their long-standing partnerships with community groups such as the Freedom Project, the IF Project, and the Kent School District. Board member Michael Cravens also points to the expertise that David is bringing to the organization.

“Hiring David in this new role was an important step for us,” said Board member Michael Cravens. “His previous work with community impacted by violence and gang life are crucial experiences to build from.” Michael also noted that David is from the Latino community – giving him credibility and insight into the world of Latinx youth.

The insight that Latinx youth can provide will also play a role in the development of the program. Participants will co-design the New Connections VPR Project, helping to shape the curriculum and providing input as to where adjustments should be made.

During a site visit, N2N advisory committee member and City of Kent employee, Uriel Varela, underscored the importance of New Connections ability to connect youth with community and their culture.

“This group reminds me of an important concept I believe in: Cultura Cura. In English it means Culture Cures,” Uriel said. “The work they are doing in Kent through a cultural competency lens creates more confident youth because New Connections is grounded in their identity and larger community.”

N2N is excited to see the final product of this work and looks forward to a community unveiling of the photovoice project in the future.

Learn more about New Connection of South King County here.

*First time grantee of N2N
**Also, the first grant ever received by Seattle Foundation

For more information about Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N), please contact Program Consultant Aileen Balahadia at 206-250-4299. The quarterly deadlines for N2N applications are January 30, April 30, July 30 and October 3.