Class of 2018 Year of Service

Darius Atefat-Peckham


In association with National Student Poets Program and the New York Life Foundation, Darius flew to Salt Lake City, Utah to give a presentation that included a reading of original work, a teaching, and a workshop on the concurrence of sadness and joy throughout the grieving process. He also conducted workshops (from June 18–June 22, 2019) at the NAGC (National Association for Grieving Children) conference and at the Salt Lake City Public Library, his main source of reference being Book of Delights by Ross Gay and his own life experience. He was able to practice this same workshop before his service trip in multiple public and private schools throughout the state of Missouri in April. Additionally, Darius employed experiences from this past year to make progress on editing and writing an introduction to an unpublished children’s book manuscript left to him by his mother (who died in a car accident in Amman, Jordan in 2004) which is being considered by numerous publishers.

Daniel Blokh


For his community service project, Daniel taught poetry at synagogues throughout the southeast. He led two sessions at Temple Emanuel in Birmingham (June 20 and August 15), one session at In Town Jewish Academy in Atlanta (May 5), and one session at Camp Jacobs in Mississippi (July 7). His project focused on how poetry can provide an emotional outlet in the face of increasing anti-Semitic violence. He achieved this by reading poems of his own which responded to antisemitism, as well as providing workshop participants with writing prompts to spark their own creativity. In additional, Daniel had the opportunity to write an essay for CNN on how poetry can heal the grieving Jewish community, which was shared widely.

Alexandra Contreras-Montesano


For her community service project, Alexandra focused on the idea of vulnerability and poetry as a method of honesty and connection. She designed workshops rooted in these ideas while also giving an introduction to poetry that could be engaging for any age, culminating in a six week online and in-person workshop series course that provided a new poetry writing prompt every week. Topics and prompts ranged from writing activist poems to confessional poems. The workshops also involved learning forms of poetry such as the Abecedarian and Ghazal. This project was presented in collaboration with Young Writers Project, an organization that encourages youth voice. In response to the prompts, students wrote many breathtaking poems. An area that seemed to particularly inspire was the Abecedarian prompt. In her future workshops in Maine, New York, and Burlington, Alex chose to focus on vulnerability within the Abecedarian form. She hoped to create a space in workshops that allowed everyone to feel as open and accepted as possible. She is currently working to create a collection of poems from her workshop students using thirteen of their Abecedarian poems, and plans to collaborate with many different artists to help support and promote the poetry collection.

Heather Laurel Jensen


Heather’s community service project was the cultivation of a Youth Poet Laureate program for the city of Phoenix. She partnered with the following organizations: Re:Frame, a Phoenix-based, youth-centered organization focused on centering the experiences of Phoenix youth through art and community; Urban Word, an international organization known for creating the National Youth Poet Laureate competition; Virginia G. Piper Writing House, the creative writing center at Arizona State University; the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, a government office which provided fiscal support; and finally, her own organization, her home, Creative Youth of Arizona, LLC. The project involved advertising for the Phoenix Youth Poet Laureate competition; coordinating partnerships between entities; organizing the judging process; arranging resources and opportunities for the Phoenix Youth Poet Laureate; and, just recently, hosting the appointment ceremony for Phoenix’s first ever Youth Poet Laureate, whose year of service officially began on August 17, just as Heather’s has come to a close. She plans to continue working on the program for as long as she is able.

Ariana Smith


Ariana’s community service project centered on Black identity and self-affirmations as a mode of activism. While deeply invested in the principle that one must use the language of the community in order to speak to the community, Ariana developed workshops that used the poetic works of Audre Lorde, A Tribe Called Quest, and Danez Smith in order to bring voice to the plurality of the Black experience. She spent her National Poetry Month in Los Angeles, where she partnered with the L.A. County Library to lead a workshop on the topic of Black sisterhood at St. Julian Barbershop in Compton and a workshop on cultural identity at the East Rancho Dominguez Library. She also led workshops for students at the Optimal Christian Academy in Compton, and the Boys & Girls Club. Through her community service project, Ariana aimed to uplift the Black youth voice by emphasizing the power of art as a tool for empowerment.