Supporters of the nonprofit teen newspaper L.A. Youth are scrambling to raise $500,000 by May 15 to keep it going.
Seventeen-year-old Yesenia Reyes of Watts said she first wrote articles for the L.A. Youth newspaper three years ago because she wanted to combat a stereotype.
“A boy my age asked me if I did drugs because I told him where I was from," she said.
Reyes, a senior at Animo Locke High School #1 in South Los Angeles, said that boy’s assumption couldn’t have been further from the truth.
“That was very hurtful, but it’s something a lot of students in my community have had to face," she said. "I’ve never done drugs in my life, I’m very involved in my community, I love reading, my grades are really good. I’m just really invested in my future.”
Reyes worked with professional editors to tell her story. People her age, including some she didn't know, sent letters after L.A. Youth published her article to thank her.
The paper’s publisher, Donna Myrow, said that’s not uncommon.
“I know mainstream newspapers are losing their readership, and our readership is going up because what we do is so unusual," she said. "We talk about issues that are not discussed in schools. It’s conversation that’s open for dialogue in both directions.“
Myrow said she started the paper to offer young people an independent voice. With an assist from two paid editors, teens often write about their personal experiences with foster care, drug use or dealing with mental illness.
L.A. Youth’s co-managing editor Amanda Riddle said she joined the paper in 2002, following a five-year stint as a reporter for the Associated Press.
She said she once helped a teen craft a story about what it's like to have schizophrenia and the voices he heard in his head. They met every week for a year before the story was finished.
“No other organization would have worked with him for that long to give him that opportunity to share his experience not only with students at his school, but with schools across the county," Riddle said. "Mental illness is not something that you hear talked about very often, definitely not something that teens learn about very much at school, so it was just, really, a groundbreaking story.”
Six times a year, L.A. Youth reaches about 400,000 readers at local high schools.
But the paper’s future is in jeopardy. Myrow said the money she relies on for annual operating costs hasn’t come through this year.
“We’ve never faced this problem before. We could rely on a few six-figure grants a year and that’s what we’ve lost in the past year and we’ve not been able to recoup them.”
Myrow said an online-only format wouldn’t work, because many readers don’t have access to computers. L.A. Youth is soliciting donations in any amount to prevent a shutdown at the end of this school year.
Teens like Yesenia Reyes hope it doesn’t come to that. She said L.A. Youth’s editors have helped her to tell stories that matter to he and they’ve even helped her with college applications.
“It’s really inspiring," she said. "I’ve had a lot of people and friends tell me ‘I want to do what you do’ and it’s sad that they might not be able to get to do that.”
L.A Youth supporters said that if they don’t meet their fundraising goal on time, they’ll return the donations people have sent.