About Us

Young Writers Program History

The Young Writers Program began in 2012 and has worked steadily (and successfully) to support students with their writing. For the first four years, the program 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 and an After-School Writing Center 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 typically contribute 2 hours a week in the classroom or at our downtown writing center, The Word Lab, at the Museum of Art & History. 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 would 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, Director of the Young Writers Program

Julia worked as Art Director for ETR Associates before becoming a freelance journalist covering the arts for the Bay Area. She earned her MA in Education 10 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.

Contact Julia >


Robin Estrin, Word Lab Director

Robin Estrin is a writer and radio DJ from southern California. She earned her BA from UC Santa Cruz, where she studied English literature and politics and served as an editor of Chinquapin Literary Magazine. A passionate student and educator, Robin began volunteering with the Young Writers Program in 2015, and has since taught poetry and fiction to fifth and sixth graders at Badgerdog, a creative writing summer camp in Austin, Texas. When not working, Robin is reading widely, spinning records on KZSC 88.1 FM, or thinking creatively about education reform. She intends to pursue an MFA in poetry.

Contact Robin >


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 Young Writers Program 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.

Contact Stuart >

Skarlett Arreola, Volunteer Coordinator

Skarlett Arreola is a mango enthusiast who loves community building and social activism. Skarlett was born in Sinaloa, Mexico and came to the U.S. when she was six. Learning English as a second language was challenging for her but Skarlett found solace in writing. A strong advocate for the art of storytelling and the power it has to create connections and opportunities to learn, Skarlett holds a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Education from UC Santa Cruz. On days when she’s not focused on building community you can catch her riding her bike, eating fruit, or doing some window shopping somewhere downtown.