In a world overwhelmed by stimulation and distraction, it’s harder than ever to get the attention of our youth. Unless uniquely singled out for special attention by teachers and other advisors, it’s only natural for young people to tune out from their studies, even at a very young age.

So how do you solve this?

We need fresh solutions for engagement that allow our young people to feel valued and excited. One example is mentorship and unique opportunities for youth to be encouraged, advised and supported—not to mention have fun.

Every fall, United Way of Greater Los Angeles partners with Valero Wilmington Refinery to host the Fall Into Literacy event in Wilmington. This family-friendly festival is an expansive experiential bookfair, complete with activities, live performances, character appearances, author-led readings and free books to take home. Non-profit organizations, community leaders and businesses come together to celebrate local culture—this year’s event is themed Dia de Los Muertos—and get kids excited about reading. At the same time, the festival provides resources for teens and adults that can help with financial literacy, further education and basic needs.

Arguably one of the most challenging groups to excite is high school students.

One of the performers at Fall Into Literacy will be a young spoken word poet from Get Lit, a California-based arts education nonprofit that uses poetry to increase literacy. Get Lit’s Words Ignite program teaches high school students to read classic works of literature and respond through spoken word poetry that speaks to critical issues of the present day.

“It was first our original design to engage students’ with literature that would empower and inspire them. Now, they are creating literature that does the exact same thing,” says Raul Herrera, Education Coordinator of Get Lit Words Ignite. “They are the new classics that value old classics, reading about topics of the past to help them invest in their own future. Words Ignite prepares students to become our next generation of leaders and thinkers. It provides them with the tools necessary for speaking out and standing up about critical issues and sounding good while doing it.”

One of United Way’s’ own education initiatives is the Young Civic Leaders Program (YCLP), which offers high school students mentorship and other opportunities to not only take pride in their work and gifts, but also to become leaders in their community.

Initiatives like Fall Into Literacy, YCLP and Get Lit’s Words Ignite program empower students to not only take ownership of their education, but to become leaders for the future. These are dynamic initiatives that address many areas and require investment from the community. But the main ingredient in all of them? Inspiration.

It’s not too late to attend this year’s Fall Into Literacy on Saturday, October 13. See more details here! If you’d like to support more United Way programs like Fall Into Literacy, visit unitedwayla.org/donate.

*Main photo by Ambreen Hassan