About Us

Young Writers Program History

The Young Writers Program began in 2012 and has worked steadily (and successfully!) to support students in their writing. Organizationally sponsored by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, for the first four years it was a project of Santa Cruz Writes, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing literary opportunities for Santa Cruz County residents. Santa Cruz Writes was co-founded by Jory Post, Julia Chiapella, and Karen Ackland. Beginning initially with an In-Classroom Project, the Young Writers Program added a Dedicated Writing Room Project, an After-School Writing Center Project (the Word Lab), and partnered with Museo Eduardo Carrillo to create the Hablamos Juntos Project. With its tremendous growth, the Young Writers Program became its own non-profit in 2016, fiscally sponsored by the Arts Council Santa Cruz County.


How the Program Works

Our volunteers are the backbone of the Young Writers Program. They indicate interest by registering online and, after a conversation with Young Writers Program staff, fingerprinting, and proof of a negative TB test, are set to step into the classroom. Volunteers attend professional training sessions that help them understand how to work with 4th through 12th grade public school students and their writing. Classroom writing projects are typically teacher-initiated and take place throughout the year, lasting from four to eight weeks. Volunteers contribute at least 2 hours a week in the classroom or at our after-school writing center, The Word Lab. Projects culminate in a publication of student work or a public reading. One-on-one mentoring is invaluable in providing students the personalized attention they need as their writing develops. And because students are working with publication in mind, they learn the value of revision and editing. Whether you’d like to volunteer, donate, have an idea for a project or just want to find out more, the Young Writers Program we’d love to hear from you.

If you are interested in becoming a Writing Assistant or are a teacher who has a project in mind, please let us know by reaching out to our staff. And take a moment to review the current writing projects as they take shape each year.

Young Writers Program Staff

Julia Chiapella, Young Writers Program Director

Julia has had careers in graphics and journalism. She earned her MA in Education 14 years ago and taught at the elementary level as both a classroom teacher and a writing specialist. A poet and writer, she and writing colleagues Jory Post and Karen Ackland created Santa Cruz Writes in the fall of 2011 to enhance literary opportunities for Santa Cruz County residents. Julia has been directing the Young Writers Program since the fall of 2012. She received a Gail Rich Award in 2017 for creative contributions to Santa Cruz County.

Contact Julia >

Billy Butler, Word Lab Coordinator

Billy Butler is a writer and educator from northern California. He studied literature, creative writing, and education at UC Santa Cruz, where he was a senior editor of Chinquapin Literary Magazine and co-editor-in-chief of Fish Rap Live, a satirical newspaper. He has read his poems at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and the Nourse Theater in San Francisco, and has been published in Bodega Magazine, Potluck Magazine, Hobart, and other journals. Outside of work, you can find Billy visiting thrift stores, exploring hiking trails, and figuring out his film camera.

Contact Billy >


Stuart Rodriguez, Publications Coordinator

Stuart Rodriquez is a writer, editor, and Bay Area native. He is an alumnus of the University of Southern California, where he studied creative writing and songwriting. Before being hired by the Young Writers Program, he spent more than two years as a volunteer editor and book designer for the organization where he edited students’ poems and stories and designed and laid out students’ work for publication. When not at work, he enjoys writing fiction, reading, cycling, and the many meet-ups and special events in the Santa Cruz area.

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Angela Tapia, Volunteer Coordinator

An aspiring teacher and perpetual writer, Angela Tapia is a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz where she earned a B.A. in Literature and a minor in Education. Across all professional pursuits, she values collaboration that results in stronger communities and louder voices. Volunteering with Young Writers Program last year inspired her to be as open and brave as the young people she mentored. She feels incredibly grateful to continue this important work as Volunteer Coordinator. Angela juggles reading too many books at time, spent last summer improving stories for kindergarteners, and enjoys her free time being with family. 

Contact Angela >