A Statement from 826 Valencia & De Marillac Academy

Tenderloin Youth Have Stories to Tell—It’s Time to Listen

Bita Nazarian, Executive Director at 826 Valencia

Theresa Flynn Houghton, CEO and President at De Marillac Academy


The narrative around the Tenderloin makes national headlines as an example of “what’s wrong with liberal San Francisco.” But these stories fail to recognize the hard-won success of the Tenderloin community–which includes over 3,000 children and their families, as well as many youth serving nonprofit organizations and three schools.  The Tenderloin is more than just its challenges–it is also a children’s zone, built on collaboration and hopefulness, not a doom loop.


Recently during “I Love Tenderloin” week, a weeklong community-driven celebration of the rich culture and positive happenings in the Tenderloin, news outlets published six articles focused on the potential closures of late night liquor stores. Only one outlet actually reported on the week-long celebration of the small businesses, organizations, and communities in the Tenderloin. 


These media cycles erase the positive community partnerships that we experience daily in the Tenderloin neighborhood. For the past nine years, 826 Valencia and De Marillac Academy have coordinated programming to support students’ writing and elevate their voices as young people who live and attend school here in the Tenderloin.


826 Valencia has been serving youth in San Francisco for over 20 years with free writing, tutoring, and publishing programs. We partner with caregivers, school administrators, and teachers to deliver responsive programming because individualized attention and coordinated support increase students’ writing skills, confidence, and pride. 


At De Marillac Academy (DMA), we believe that another world is possible, and our students and graduates are a fundamental force for building it. In partnership with families and community, through an all-scholarship 4th-8th grade Academy and Graduate Support Program, DMA accompanies students through middle school, high school and into early adulthood, as they develop a strong sense of self, purpose, and service to others.


Together, we comprise two out of six youth serving nonprofits at Golden Gate and Leavenworth, including partners like Larkin Street Youth Services, The Boys & Girls Club’s Tenderloin Clubhouse, Wu Yee, and Compass Family Services. We are all committed to collaboration because it yields the best community outcomes for our students and neighbors. This ecosystem of support and collaboration–-which also includes incredible organizations like Unite Here Local 2, St. Anthony Foundation, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, Tenderloin Community Benefits District, and Lutheran Social Services–rarely makes it into the wider-known narrative of the Tenderloin.  


For the nine years 826 Valencia and DMA have been partnering, students have traveled across the street to 826 Valencia’s Tenderloin Center every Tuesday to strengthen their writing skills and express themselves in a weird and whimsical environment. This year, they wrote biography poems, letters to the next president, letters to BFFs in the year 3000, and an encyclopedia of oddities. Students chose pieces to include in our joint publication and their very own book, The Future is Pretty Cool. This joyful and educational opportunity helps our youth explore who they are and share what they have to say with the world. And families are bolstered, knowing that their children are safe and supported. This is only one example of the many collaborations in our neighborhood that uplift and support the voices of our students and families.


When we listen to our kids and community, hold their humanity and dreams in high regard, and center their stories, anything is possible. The Tenderloin has been treated as a containment zone for decades, but our City’s youth is in the Tenderloin–and that means our City’s future is here too. We need to reimagine our neighborhood as the children’s zone that it is, listen to the voices of our brilliant young people, and coordinate our services so they can write their own futures. There are models for this kind of work, such as the Harlem’s Children’s Zone, where nonprofits collaborate with city agencies and funders to collaboratively better support a neighborhood, and center the children and families who live here.  It is time for us to build on our successes and rewrite this future for the Tenderloin. We must bolster our youth to change the narrative of our city, because the future is pretty cool.