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The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently announced that Spy Hop Productions is to receive an NEA Art Works grant to expand its Sending Messages program, an online podcast of stories from incarcerated youth, to four local youth-in-custody facilities.
Sending Messages, started in 2009 through a partnership with Decker Lake Youth Center, gives incarcerated youth a chance to tell their story through stories, poems, spoken word and interviews. Each month, students come up with a theme for their podcast – many are reflections of the daily problems they face, truth, regret, addiction and the loss of identity. They then write, record the pieces and produce them for the final episode.
The Art Works grant will allow Spy Hop to expand its program to include three other youth in custody facilities across the Wasatch Front. “Spy Hop Productions' Sending Messages program is a great value to us and the students we serve,” said Larry Mendez, assistant program director of Decker Lake Youth Center. “The innovative, community-based intervention program is a positive medium in which the youth can develop self-confidence and positive communication and written skills. We are thrilled they will be able to expand the program next year.”
The only youth-in-custody produced podcast in the country; Sending Messages students have produced 23 episodes, the podcast has won two awards, and has more than 2600 downloads from audiences from around the world. This program teaches real-world skills, the value of commitment and collaboration and perhaps most importantly, gives confidence to students who often have never felt validated or worthwhile. University of Utah’s Criminal Justice Center is currently working on a more rigorous evaluation to assess the impact the program is having.
“We firmly believe that all students, regardless of their position in life, should have the opportunity to express themselves, to tell their story and to find their voice. Sending Messages has been a labor of love for the past three years, and this grant not only validates what we’ve accomplished, but allows us to expand our programming to reach more young people who so rarely have the opportunity to explore the arts,” said Spy Hop Executive Director Kasandra VerBrugghen.