Kids and Paper was born out of the experience of love, change, and a mother noticing her child’s irrepressible self-expression through drawing. Now, Kids and Paper have provided 200 children with a program where they are encouraged to safely and freely express themselves through art, play, academics, and more in a warm, creative, family-oriented environment.
Azadeh Eslamy, Executive Director of Kids and Paper, was running youth programming in Lebanon when the country experienced economic collapse, leading to her family’s evacuation to the United States, where they settled in Seattle. As they adjusted to the city, one of Azadeh’s children became very inspired by art and spent much of her time learning how to draw. Azadeh’s daughter went through a lot of paper at that time to create all of her artwork and one day, Azadeh found her daughter searching the house for even more paper. Azadeh laughed about it to a friend when she said, “These kids and paper!”
At that moment, something clicked, and Azadeh felt a spark for something big. She immediately bought the website domain kidsandpaper.org and started a new nonprofit organization providing youth programming, unsure exactly how it would all work out. Azadeh quickly built relationships with the Magnuson Park Community Center, where there was a need for more programming for youth in the Magnuson and Sand Point communities. Kids and Paper began their first program at the Community Center in Summer 2021. Youth were welcomed into their newfound program at the start of every day with a warm breakfast shared, intentionally setting a tone of family, community, and kindness.
As summer came to a close, Kids and Paper became a staple in the Magnuson Park and Sand Point communities, and they were invited to stay at the Community Center to run after-school programming for the new school year. Kids and Paper found incredible success as they continued to embed a culture of family and kindness into their program, again starting every day after school with a warm meal together and then providing a variety of programs that complement the school day, including academic enrichment, such as Math Mondays, and multiple mediums of creative expression, including drawing, writing, music, dance, yoga, and sports. Kids and Paper continued to grow and gain more traction, receiving a three-year Best Starts for Kids grant from School’s Out Washington in the summer of 2022, in addition to a few smaller grants from private foundations.
Youth have thrived in Kids and Paper’s programs, where young people are encouraged to respect and care for one another as family members, and everyone feels like they belong. “I always want everybody to feel safe, and also be able to be themselves without feeling judged or anything like that,” explained Janile Mundy, Program Lead. “Just to create a safe space, that’s the most important thing for me. And, for the kids to be able to express themselves any way they need to.”
Kids and Paper staff embed family into their programming through shared hot meals, encouraging sharing and community and reiterating the importance of their togetherness as a family. The team has been incredibly successful in its pursuits–it has seen youth embody the program’s familial aspect, caring for one another and referring to each other as family members. These successes have directly supported an increase in academic achievement – for example, Kids and Paper youth saw a 30% increase in math scores in the 2022-2023 school year alone.
Running programming at the Community Center grew challenging as time went on. When Kids and Paper began, the Community Center was undergoing construction, meaning they were operating out of a temporary location for over a year. Kids and Paper no longer had a dedicated program space when the new Community Center re-opened. A lack of dedicated program space put a strain on many of the simple but important things that strengthen youth programming. Personalizing their programming space, like showcasing youth artwork on the walls, was impossible as it couldn’t be left up outside programming time.
Fortunately, at the start of the 2023-2024 school year, the Principal at Sandpoint Elementary welcomed Kids and Paper with open arms, providing them with their own dedicated classroom and giving them full reign of the school’s amenities, like the gym, playground, fields, and more. Although the transition to the new location was challenging, the location change to Sandpoint Elementary has made a world of difference, strengthening Kids and Paper’s programs even more.
Being embedded into the school campus at Sandpoint Elementary has had many wonderful outcomes. All of the Kids and Paper students come straight from their school classrooms at the end of the day, where they are greeted, as always, with big smiles from Kids and Paper staff and a warm meal to start the day together. This transition has supported the youth’s academic success tremendously, as Kids and Paper staff are now able to be directly in touch with students’ teachers, allowing for increased communication and partnership on academic supports.
Meanwhile, offering programming directly in the school provides more familiarity for the students. “This place actually feels like home to them,” shared Janile, strengthening the aspect of family that is embedded into Kids and Paper’s programming. “They take care of the space because they see it as theirs, as a part of their home. It’s the family home.”
The school also feels more like home to the staff. A consistent, dedicated classroom has meant the Kids and Paper team has more stability. They’ve seen their programming strengthen across the board as they’ve had more time to focus on their Program Quality work and work towards what they want to achieve in the program.
Having their own space at the school also means that the walls are ready to be decorated and hung with their students’ paintings, drawings, and artistic creations. “Since we’ve been at Sandpoint in the new spot, they’ve been able to really express themselves through art more,” Janile said. “Now, they can tell, this is our space. They can hang art up on the wall now.” Ultimately, one of the small but incredibly meaningful aspects of Kids and Paper’s new program space brings their story back to its roots: children and their artwork.