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Faith-based nonprofit helps young people build self-confidence

Arts nonprofit empowers young people with self-confidence
Arts nonprofit empowers young people with self-confidence 03:39

A woman who experienced bullying as a middle school student has spent the last 22 years giving young people a safe place to belong and grow.

Shelene Huey-Booker knows how to lift the spirits and voices of young people.

"I wanted to use my passions at that point to show others they're seen, they're known, they're heard," she said.

The good vibes she shares today are actually borne out of a traumatic experience back in middle school.

"I was severely bullied by a particular young lady that made signs of a pig and put that on my chair. I was known by peers as La Porky," she stated.

Because she found refuge in music, she knew she'd one day create a safe place for underserved youth to learn the arts like she did.

So in 2002, she founded Youth Utilizing Power and Praise, also known as YUPP.

As executive director, Huey-Booker leads the faith-based program that serves hundreds of people ages 6 to 25 each year in six counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Joaquin, and its home base in Santa Clara County.

On this day, YUPP is hosting an annual conference at Family Life Christian Center in San Jose called Teach Me to Play and Pray.

Year round, the nonprofit provides lessons in music, dance, vocals, theater and public speaking through its Light It Up School of the Arts afterschool program and monthly Breaking the Barriers Performing Arts group.

Instruction is free, funded by donations and grants.

In fact, several students designed their own show and raised money to travel to Washington D.C. to perform at four churches in April.

Keion Rothschild was a part of that group. He says Huey-Booker has helped him and his four siblings build confidence.

"They all came out of their shell in their own individual ways. It's just amazing to see," he said.

His mom, Ona Rothschild, brought all five of her children to YUPP's San Jose conference from Brentwood.

Rothschild says Huey-Booker has become as close as family.

"She plants seeds in every one of the kids' lives, and we just see that growth. Everything she does is genuine," Ona Rothschild said.

That makes Huey-Booker smile.

"Being completely happy with being authentically who they're created to be -- that gives me joy," she said.

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