We SAY Sí to San Antonio Youth

Jelicity Luna thinks about her future, about her career path once she graduates from high school next year. And thanks to SAY Sí, she’s pretty sure she’ll end up at the intersection of computer science and political science.

Luna, a junior in high school, has spent four years on new media projects at SAY Sí, a nonprofit arts program dedicated to nurturing San Antonio youth. She makes video games as part of a team. Her natural love for computer science and learned passion for community (also thanks to SAY Sí) have her ready to carve out her own niche.

Being at SAY Sí “really gave me a love for the community, wanting to give back to the community,” Luna said. “And that’s where I went down the idea of … political science, and then I matched it with, like, the actual work we do in the studio of computer science.”

Luna spends part of her week inside SAY Sí’s Home for Innovation and Video Ecology, also known as HIVE or new media. It’s one of several arts programs offered by the nonprofit, which was founded 28 years ago.

“SAY Sí is a creative, safe space for young people,” said Nicole Amri, SAY Sí’s co-executive director. It aims to provide quality arts programs to San Antonio youth, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It’s a space for all San Antonio [youth] to experience something fun and different and learn something.”

Students work in new media, theater, and visual arts like drawing, painting, sculpture, and ceramics. Their learning leads to empowerment, development of life and leadership skills, and an orientation toward community service.

SAY Sí is a past participant in the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Peer Learning Cohort, a 36-month collaboration in which nonprofit leaders work together to become more effective leaders and learn to streamline their organizations to maximize efficiency.

“Being part of the first cohort was super special and formed a bond among the organizations,” Amri said. “The education, the look inside the foundation’s philanthropy practices and the heart-to-heart relationships impacted Stephen [Garza-Guzman, co-executive director] and me as nonprofit workers and even more now as new co-executive directors. We’re incredibly grateful for the expanded and deepened community.”

The organization has always been about equity, with a goal of having 80 percent of its students come from households from historically under-resourced neighborhoods. With its new location across the creek from the Alazan-Apache Courts, the organization is in a better position geographically-speaking to accomplish some of those goals. Both Amri and Garza-Guzman, her co-executive director, have roots in the West Side, but their families eventually moved in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

Amri and Garza-Guzman understand the important role SAY Sí now plays in empowering young people in the area.

“As leaders … we came from this neighborhood … we did not have access to quality arts education in this area,” Garza-Guzman said. “We know what the need is, and we’re trying to fill it.”

When students enter SAY Sí, they choose two studios and experiment a little. Luna chose new media and theater. “I really got to experiment with each studio and then got to choose one that I really wanted to focus on.”

Luna designs video games with the help of her peers. Her team recently created a rhythm game similar to “Guitar Hero” and “Dance Dance Revolution.” 

“I’m a big fan of video games and gaming, and that’s really what brought me to SAY Sí—being able to make my own games,” Luna said. “I would play them, and I’d be like, ‘This is so cool. How can I do it?’ And SAY Sí allowed me to learn how.”

Creating a video game, Luna explains, is not all about programming and game mechanics. There’s the overall planning, the artwork, developing characters, developing a background, and writing music.

Developing video games at SAY Sí has piqued her interest in other forms of technology, which she plans to pursue after high school.

Jelicity Luna, a Young Women’s Leadership Academy student, sits for a portrait at SAY Sí’s Media Arts Studio. February 21, 2022

“Jelicity is incredibly inspiring, and being able to watch her and the others who join us in middle school grow up through the program is what makes this work as good as it is,” Amri said. “Working with and for young artists is the best work I could ask for, and the ‘Jelicity’s of the world help me to feel good about the future.”

 

Beyond developing a career skillset, Luna credits SAY Sí with helping her develop as a person and providing a creative space, or in her words, “an outlet for my creative mindset and creative thinking, which I really wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”

Her time at SAY Sí has also allowed her to build skills in leadership and team-building.

“Just being a part of such a great community,” she said, “has allowed me to learn how to network with people, communicate with people, and share ideas of team building. … which is very, very helpful for me in the future.”

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