Made for Youth, by Youth

Photo: Christopher Bagley

About 50 years ago, John Goldman was a lifeguard and a swimming instructor at Ravenswood pool in East Palo Alto. Nearby, Marcia Goldman taught kids with disabilities to swim. That early connection to the community spurred their commitment in recent decades to improving the lives of EPA’s youth, most recently as the benefactors of EPACENTER, a 25,000-square-foot arts hub designed by and for the youth it serves.

Through the John & Marcia Goldman Foundation, in 2009 the couple began exploring possibilities for the building but deliberately refrained from spelling out its particulars. “We wanted these young people to steer the course of what was going to happen,” says John Goldman, MBA ’75. “We flipped the traditional philanthropy model upside down.” A youth advisory council was formed to take the project forward. Among its members was Keitlan Wallace, a dancer who joined the planning as a high school junior. “I wanted to see a way for us young adults to dream bigger,” she recalls. “You know how in high school they talk about college and jobs, but they don’t really ask us ‘What do you want to do?’ I asked EPA­CENTER to give us computers, music studios and education for producing music.”

Over time, the youth advisers picked the name, distilled the programming, selected the architect and even insisted on LEED Platinum building standards.

As it turned out, that was the resounding consensus: The center should provide a home for arts including music, dance, visual arts, and computer- and makerspace-based creation. Over time, the youth advisers picked the name, distilled the programming, selected the architect and even insisted on LEED Platinum building standards. Wallace, now 20, remembers weighing in on everything from the center’s mission to its rooms and resources to the vibe of the decor and outdoor space to the desired traits of its staff members. 

“Being able to express yourself in a creative way in a safe environment—there are so many benefits to that all the way around,” says council member Staci Edwards. Now a student at the University of San Francisco, Edwards still lives in EPA and expects to teach both guitar and upright bass at EPACENTER, which gradually began opening this fall. “I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime—a project like this is so big,” she says. “Have you seen the building? It’s beautiful. It’s like something you would see in an affluent neighborhood. I’ve never been inside a building that’s so colorful and so unique and so community-oriented.”


Jill Patton, ’03, MA ’04, is the senior editor of Stanford. Email her at jillpatton@stanford.edu.