Get to know Gina!

I have the pleasure of being a wife and mother of two wonderful boys. I live in Southeast San Diego and am a native San Diegan.  Some of my favorite things to do with my family include going on road trips, camping and visiting new places.  Most recently, I spent my time as a family and portrait photographer for the past 3 years and have started several small business ventures over the past 8 years.  


I was introduced to UrbanLife in 2013 when my husband, Jose Luis Vallejo, (current Interim Executive Director) joined staff.  Early on, I volunteered as often as possible and became very engaged with several UrbanLife initiatives.  I was involved with UrbanLife’s after-school tutoring program, UCAN, for the first two years and helped launch UrbanMic Night at the Southeast farm site.  Every Friday we would gather with students and prepare a safe space for youth expression and community-building where students were encouraged to showcase their talents through song, spoken word, poetry, and dance.

In September 2018, former Executive Director, Sarah Carter asked me to join staff to support the efforts of UrbanLife Café.  I was honored and excited to be part of the team.  It has been an amazing experience to engage with students every day and see them flourish and grow within the UrbanLife Cafe Program.  

 The UrbanLife Café curriculum is comprised of two key components. The job training aspect of the program provides students the skills and tools they need to for advancement at their next job opportunity. Our students learn the essentials of being a barista, providing great customer service as well as learning a variety of recipes and becoming proficient at prepping and making our food menu items. They understand how to operate a POS system and the responsibilities of managing a cash register, maintaining their work areas clean, stocking and keeping inventory.   

 The second part of the program consists of character/leadership development training focused on 5 personal development areas, communication, professionalism, personal accountability, team work and problem solving.  I strongly believe that the job of a good leader is to polish and get the best out of others by demonstrating specific behaviors, attitudes, and skills which can be used to inspire and guide.  Our objective at UrbanLife Café is to ensure our students embark on a life-long journey of development so that they may achieve their full potential.  Throughout our leadership development courses, we reference Biblical scripture to teach on each of the different personal development areas we are focusing on.  Most importantly, we strive to demonstrate the love of God and to practice the fruits of the Spirit wherever we go and whatever we do.

I am excited and looking forward to UrbanLife’s future.I hope to create everlasting friendships with staff, students and UrbanLife supporters so that we may work together to see a restored neighborhood that reflects the peace and love of Christ. Shalom!

From San Diego to New Jersey

Sarah Carter, UrbanLife’s Executive Director since 2014, will be leaving UrbanLife at the end of the calendar year. Sarah and her family will be moving across the country to Jersey City, New Jersey and Sarah will be joining New City Kids as the Executive Director of the Jersey City team. The Board will be hosting a good-bye party for Sarah on Sunday, December 2nd from 4-7pm. Please RSVP by November 27 to Kevin (

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Sarah and our Board Chair, Bill Nichol, recently sent out the following letters with updates about this big transition.

November 6, 2018

Dear Friends,

The Board of Directors of UrbanLife has reluctantly accepted the resignation of our Executive Director, Sarah Carter. Sarah will continue through December 31st to assist the Board and staff in making a smooth transition.

Sarah has accepted an Executive Director position with New City Kids in Jersey City, New Jersey.  With a twenty-year history, New City Kids strives to develop a dynamic community where adults, teens and children work together to transform their city through after-school education, fine and performing arts and music. Sounds a bit like UrbanLife, we have prepared her well!  Sarah has guided us with a steady hand through significant growth and has positioned us for the next phase. We will miss Sarah and wish her and her family the very best in the next chapter of their lives.

As Sarah transitions off staff, the UrbanLife Board is thrilled to have José Luis Vallejo assume the role of Interim Executive Director. As many of you know, José has faithfully served as our Director of Finance and Social Enterprise and has worked with Sarah during her tenure as Executive Director. José graduated from Yale University with a degree in Economics. While working in the real estate development world for five years, he contributed to the advancement of youth development in San Diego through board service with Summerbridge San Diego, Barrio Logan College Institute and Anybody Can Youth Foundation. Building on five years of hard work with UrbanLife, José will continue in this new role to execute a seamless transition as the search begins for a new Executive Director.

The Board of Directors is extremely confident  UrbanLife is poised for increasing impact in City Heights and beyond. But we need your partnership more than ever. As you make your year-end giving plans, consider investing generously in UrbanLife, so together we can continue to change young people’s lives for Christ.

Bill Nichol
UrbanLife BoardChairman


Dear Friends of UrbanLife,

A few Saturdays ago, I was helping plant brand new seeds at UrbanLife Farms, working side by side with a fantastic group of volunteers. As I dug in the dirt, I was reminded again of how life moves in seasons… new life, growth, harvest, rest, and new life as it starts again. It was also fitting to be back working our first farm site, where I began working with UrbanLife!

I am still just as confident in the vision of UrbanLife as when I started working here, still full of the belief that we can change neighborhoods by raising up young Christian leaders who know themselves and realize the potential God has put inside them.

We have seen this transformation happen! As I watch young UrbanLife alumni share the love of Christ they have personally experienced, coach a talented and diverse cross-country team, or run a vibrant cafe that employs younger students, I see leaders raising up more leaders. The partnerships we have developed with individuals, churches, and other amazing organizations have formed a secure web of support that will continue to help our young people grow, and our neighborhoods flourish.

The work has not been easy, however, and it is not done! I have incredible confidence in José and the UrbanLife Board of Directors as they lead UrbanLife during this season of transition. The work with youth will go on because it continues to be so needed in our neighborhood and beyond!

As BJ and I move all the way across the country to follow God’s call into a new role with urban youth, we stay deeply committed to doing all we can to raise up the next generation of leaders. Will you stay committed to this crucial work with urban youth here in San Diego? Like adding rich compost and turning it into the soil to prepare for a new season of growth, UrbanLife needs all you can give during this season of transition. Donate generously, pray for the new leadership, sign up for a new volunteer role. Together, we can continue to impact entire neighborhoods through equipping and empowering young leaders.

Thank you so much for your partnership over the past six years, it has been such an honor to serve UrbanLife Ministries!

Sarah Carter
Executive Director

Coffee + Jobs = Neighborhood Impact

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The UrbanLife Cafe will celebrate its first birthday this August! We have been working hard these last 10 months: perfecting a great cup of coffee, meeting as many YMCA members (aka customers!) as possible, and watching the Cafe make a big difference in City Heights.

Our Cafe Manager, UrbanLife alumna Lina Bell, has hired and trained an amazing cafe team to lead the operation into gross sales of $85,000. We constantly hear how much the YMCA staff and members love the Cafe, love the food, and love the Cafe staff! And beyond smiles and great service, the Cafe is having a powerful impact in our community.

Here are three things we see happening the the Cafe everyday:

  1. The Cafe has increased our neighborhood’s access to healthy food.   
    Using UrbanLife Farms’ fresh, organic produce in our smoothies, salads, and sandwiches we offer a local and healthy alternative to fast food. As we open up a farmstand at the Cafe on saturdays this summer, the Cafe will continue to help provide fresh produce in the midst of a food desert.

  2. The Cafe is a community gathering space.
    Want to learn how to play chess? A Cafe regular can teach you. Interested in learning a new language? You can hear at least a few different languages being spoken at the Cafe at any given moment. The Cafe is a fusion of diverse neighborhoods and a great place to build community.

  3. The Cafe changes the story for our youth.
    As young people flood the lobby of the Copley-Price Family YMCA daily, they get to see four strong young women from their neighborhood running a growing business.  As Lina leads, she holds the tension of putting people first and providing real opportunities to help change their lives. Her leadership is shaping the story for youth in our neighborhood… challenging them to believe in themselves, do hard things, and love your community.

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We are excited to continue to grow the Cafe program and our partnership with the YMCA. Next fall, we will partner with Y Strong Girls, an after-school program empowering 30 high school women with health & wellness education and entrepreneurship exposure.  

As the YMCA heads into the busiest season of the year, the Cafe is expecting great sales during the summer and anticipates breaking even in the next few months… a feat for any new food business! Come down to the Cafe for a meal and experience this transformative place yourself! We’ll see you there.

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Photos: Ellen Carlander

Saying Goodbye to Romin


It's hard to believe this time has come, but long-time UrbanLife staff Romin Irani is transitioning to a new season of life and ministry. We will miss Romin's gift of deep relationships, sincere care for all those he meets, his hilarious sense of humor... and so many other things! Help us celebrate Romin's ministry and impact in the lives of City Heights young people. 

10 years ago, Michelle Adams asked me to come check out something new she was getting involved in. She asked me to come help BBQ burgers and see this urban youth group that her and Jake were starting up. I was 22, starting my last year of college, still relativity new to my faith and I LOVED IT. I kept coming back week by week, getting to know students, engaging God and having my faith challenged in new ways. When I graduated, God made it very clear being a full time staff who loved students was what he called me to do. I have been doing so ever since and have grown so much as a person.

For over a year I've been in a discernment process of what the next season of my life is going to look like. For the last 7 years I've been working with the same class of students, their seniors now and 2 months away from graduating. What am I gonna do when they graduate? Go back and start another class? Stay as high school director? Move on with them and create another UrbanLife program? All these questions ran through my head, but now  I was processing them through the lens of a Husband and Father. UrbanLife graciously let me see a spiritual director over the last year to help guide me in this decision process. I've learned a lot about myself; the ways I operate with people, spaces I thrive in, how my childhood affects my relationships, my preferred ministry style and more.  

In seeking God, processing with Naomi, good friends, mentors, long time youth-workers and co-workers I have decided that will be my last season on staff with UrbanLife. The hard part of this call is that God hasn't yet called me to anything else and I still feel called to youth. However, I do feel God is calling me into a season of getting healthy (on all levels) and serving my family as we have some big questions to answer about our future. We still will be in City Heights and be a part of our UrbanLife Missional Community, continuing to foster the lifelong friendships we've created. I'm super thankful for how serving people at UrbanLife has forever changed my life and for how gracious and caring our staff has been towards me in this discernment season. For now, the plan is that I'm going to take summer sabbatical to pursue God in what's next for our family. 

New Life this Spring: Mission Week and Baptisms


Mission Week is like an UrbanLife highlight role… student leaders making a difference in their own neighborhood while learning about the transforming love of Jesus. And don’t forget the fun… because our crew works hard and plays hard! This powerful week isn’t possible without generous donors, committed volunteers, and our dedicated Youth Development staff team making it all work.

Students involved in Mission Week give their Spring Break to provide an educational day camp to elementary students that are part of San Diego Refugee Tutoring. This year we had volunteers and UrbanLife donors teach about dental hygiene, run conversational english learning classes, and help young students learn on our City Heights farm. We took field trips to the Ocean Discovery Institute and the beach, helping our students experience more of San Diego.

In the evenings, high school students learned about what it means to be ALL IN… for others, for their neighborhood, and for God. Their were more than a few tears the evening students discussed the message that God is ALL IN for us, no matter what.

Think about the rippling impact this week has in our neighborhood:

  • Almost 40 elementary students participated in a free, educational day camp… instead of staying cooped up inside for their Spring Break, relieving some of the pressure on working parents.

  • 20 high school students, some brand new to UrbanLife, exercised their leadership skills by running the camp… offering a safe and educational experience for their younger neighbors.

  • These high schoolers experienced the Gospel this week… learning God’s ALL IN love is for them and for their ‘hood.


From the response time at Mission Week, 7 students recommitted to Jesus and 4 students are allowing Jesus to be part of their life for the first time. Many of the new students that attended Mission Week are now coming to our weekly youth gathering, Central. 

The Sunday after Mission Week (Easter Sunday), 6 of the high schoolers decided to get baptized and committed to the ALL IN life of following Jesus. It was an amazing service with beautiful testimonies from the students about why they were choosing this new life.    

Here are some student quotes from Mission Week: 

“I found out who I want to be and how I want to live my life.” (sophomore) 

“I’ve never been so happy serving others.  All the people at Mission Week made me feel important.  I also felt that all the talking about God made me do some thinking and make changes in my life that is bringing me happiness again.” (sophomore refugee student who has lived in US for just 3 years)

“Life changing, fueled my interest in learning about God. I learned about how Jesus died for our mistakes and He’s all in for us so that we don’t have the pressure of making any mistakes.” -(junior)


UrbanLife in the News

We're catching some attention! Check out these inspiring videos of what's happening around UrbanLife from local news sources:

City Heights Runners on NBC7 and more:

CHR on Fox5

CHR on Fox5

And if that's not enough... there are more videos on the UrbanLife Farms Facebook Page or UrbanLife Cafe's . 


Let's talk about it...

UrbanLife Central youth gathering... every Monday night

UrbanLife Central youth gathering... every Monday night

From the UrbanLife Youth Development Team

“No, guy is gonna....” said a female 10th grader.

“I am going to wait until marriage too” replied another 11th grader. 

These were a few things overhead at our youth group on Monday nights (now called UrbanLife Central). UL Central is a safe space for youth involved across all of UrbanLife... the Farms, Cafe, Runners... to come hear the gospel and develop healthy friendships in a safe and supportive environment.   

This week, we tackled the heavy (but relevant!) subjects of love, sex, and relationships! We took students on a journey in their small groups through a 3-part listen-then-respond teaching on relationships, love and sex. We introduced the night by questioning why do we desire relationships so badly, which led to how God created us for relationships.  We are created to know and to be known.  Yet we reminded students how we, as a culture have perverted his original vision.

For the second session, students analyzed two high school relationship stories, the first story was about a non-committed sexual relationship versus the second story of a non-sexual committed relationship.   In one of the high school relationship stories the "guy" had asked his potential girlfriend what were her expectations in relationships.  For more than one of our young men that was a foreign concept!  They wanted to learn how to implement communicating expectations into their lives and relationships.  Students discovered God's view of love is through the lens of lifelong commitment.  

In the final session, many of our unchurched students read 1 Corinthians 13 for the first time!  We invited students into a relationship with a God who loves them and is committed to them, with a lifelong, patient, kind, no keeping records of wrong love!  When his love is known and experienced, it is the only way we can love others- with that same kind of love.  There was a unique spirit of attentiveness in the room that night, with a highly engaged audience.

God’s spirit revealed his truth in love.  For a group of young freshman girls, it was the first time they heard they didn't have to have sex to be in a relationship.  Overall, we are thankful that our students trust us enough to listen, respect and engage in understanding a biblical way of thinking about sex and relationships.

Meet our new UrbanLife Farms Program Director: Marcos Mujica

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Marcos is blowing up the UL Farms social media with great pictures and student videos! Follow the UL Farms story @urbanlifefarms on Instagram and Facebook.

In September, Marcos joined the UrbanLife staff team as the new UrbanLife Farms Program Director. Help us welcome him into the UrbanLife familly!

Cultivating rich soil and growing food has radically transformed my life. Over the past 10 years, my diet has become increasingly healthier, seasonally diversified, and rich in flavor. But more fundamental to this transformation has been a shift in paradigm. Through organic farming, I have become profoundly aware of optimal environments that encourage health and growth for various organism — both human and non-human organisms.

Having pastored congregations for over 8 years prior to joining the UrbanLife team, God has called me to cultivate the social and physical environments necessary for health and growth. I’m grateful for the opportunity to direct UrbanLife’s multi-site urban farming Vocational Training and Leadership Development social enterprise, UrbanLife Farms.

The two biggest obstacle to increasing UrbanLife Farms production and youth impact is 1) the poor soil quality, and 2) the lack of streamline systems that increase effi ciency. My goal is to drastically improve the quality of the soil and the develop necessary infrastructure for increased production and youth impact. I appreciate your prayers, support, and partnership in this ordained ministry.


A Partnership for Success: UrbanLife Cafe + Garden @ the YMCA

We are thrilled to announce an exciting partnership with the Copley-Price YMCA and our UrbanLife Tables culinary program. This July, UrbanLife will launch a full-service cafe, offering quality coffee and healthy food options to the thousands of people that visit the Y daily. 

UrbanLife's commitment to developing young neighborhood leaders paired with the Y's vision for healthy youth and families is a perfect partnership!

The cafe will serve as a base of operations for workforce training and development for youth, giving them real-time work experience serving customers, preparing healthy food, and helping to operate a successful small business. 

UrbanLife has also been awarded a Community Development Block Grant from the City of San Diego to create a rooftop learning garden at the Copley-Price Y, expanding the programs of UrbanLife Farms and engaging the 500+ youth that are involved at the YMCA. 

We are so excited about this new partnership with the Copley-Price YMCA, and the ways it can expand UrbanLife's ability to offer training, job skills, and a supportive environment for youth in City Heights and Southeastern San Diego!

Interested in learning more and/or getting involved? We need your help to make this new venture a success! Schedule a tour today.

What does YOUR summer look like?!

2016 High School Camp 

2016 High School Camp 

Are you an UrbanLife student looking for summer stuff? We made a page just for you!

Summertime is here! As those June gloom clouds dissolve and you hit the beach... consider how important summer can be for a young person. What did you do as a young person during the summer... get your first job? Go to summer school? Get up to no good? 

A recent article by the San Diego Foundation talks about the huge need for positive summer activities, especially for underserved, low-income youth. In our neighborhoods, young people don't always have access to academic resources and development opportunities during the summer months. Another article from the New York Times outlines how hard summer is on families, and how summer is often the place where the lack of affordable child care and the achievement gap collide for many.   

For all those reasons, summer is a crucial time for us at UrbanLife! We have tons of things happening to catch as many young people as possible and engage them in positive activities that challenge them into growth and leadership. Here are just a few of the things we have going on this summer:

We're partnering up with Inner-City Young Life to try and send 100 middle and high schoolers to camp this June. Young Life camp is a wild and outrageous week, where students often hear and accept the gospel for the first time, and make some fantastic friends, usually under the muddiest or messiest of circumstances. Camp is life-changing! 
High School camp: June 17-22, Middle School camp: June 27-July 1

Getting a job is usually an important part of summer for a young person, not only for the cash, but also for the experience, for the discipline, and for the ways it can shape their education and career goals. Giving youth access to employment opportunities is good for our communities as well.  Research  points to widespread youth employment impacting overall societal health and success.  

UrbanLife offers youth first time job experience through UrbanLife Farms, City Heights Runners coaching opportunities, and is excited to have a much wider training and employment context in our new UrbanLife Cafe at the Copley-Price YMCA!
Farming 101: July 1-29, City Heights Runners Coaches: June 12-July 15

To help close the gap, UrbanLife offers a few creative programs to keep students minds engaged. We are continuing our Literacy program for high schoolers, helping to improve english fluency and comprehension for our student runners, many who are resettled refugees. UrbanLife Robotix will run for the second summer in a row, offering STEM opportunities for middle schoolers through designing, building and programming. 
UCAN Literacy Program: June 20-Aug 3; UrbanLife Robotix: July 31-Aug 4

We are actively growing leaders throughout all our programs, but this summer there are two special opportunities for students to grow as leaders in their faith and through action. We will launch our new discipleship series, KingdomLife on July 5th. Every Wednesday, youth will gather to eat and discuss the basic of Christian life together. We hope each student that went to camp, and more, will join us to learn and grow. 

As a LiveWell San Diego partner, UrbanLife is thrilled to host a youth-focused Resident Leadership Academy in the Farming 101 program, through a grant from the City of San Diego. The Resident Leadership Academy provides the opportunity for young people to build leadership capacity and create positive changes in their neighborhoods. We're so excited to watch these young leader grow! 
KingdomLife: July 5-Aug 2, Resident Leadership Academy: July 1-29


City Heights Runners has new programs at Mann, Clark and Wilson, and will have 6 high school runners who will developing their leadership skills as junior coaches in our summer internship. We already had 50 middle school students show up for the first practice!
City Heights Runners Middle School Program, June 5-July 15

Stay tuned for more ways to get involved!


Top 5 UrbanLife Highlights from 2016

by Sarah Carter, UrbanLife Executive Director

I love the end of the year.  The chance to remember all the great things from this past year and also look ahead to a fresh new year, full of potential! As the last days of 2016 slip away, here are my top 5 UrbanLife moments from the year: 

1. UrbanLife ROBOTIX

One of our Robotix teams assembling their robot. 

One of our Robotix teams assembling their robot. 

Through a donor's imaginative idea and generous donation, we launched our first UrbanLife Robotix camp for 4th-8th graders this summer. In our neighborhoods affordable summer activities are scarce and STEM learning is badly needed, so UL Robotix was a perfect fit! My favorite moment was when Robotix students and their families crowded around pairs of robots that the students had built and then programmed to battle each other, sumo wrestling style. The chaos in the room was pure joy. 

2. the UrbanLife Celebration Banquet
featuring: the Tables Culinary Competition

Josslyn from Team Harvest Kitchen plating their amazing Poached Beet Stack 

Josslyn from Team Harvest Kitchen plating their amazing Poached Beet Stack 

This year's banquet featured our brand new initiative, UrbanLife Tables, by pairing up our culinary students with top San Diego chefs and competing for guests votes throughout the night. It was a fun, delicious party that celebrated UrbanLife and our amazing supporters. Alex Carballo and Fred Miller of Team Moto Deli walked away with the win, but all of us won as we got to taste some true culinary delights and hear amazing student stories of transformation.

3. Crawford Colts for the win!

Crawford runners taking an ice break

Crawford runners taking an ice break

This was the first year that City Heights Runners coached and supported a new running program at Crawford High School, and the men were League champs! Story after story from the new teams at Crawford are both impressive and moving. These athletes worked hard on and off the track, as many of them participated in our UrbanLife College Achievement Network (UCAN) tutoring program, focusing on English remediation and ESL programs to help get students back on track (figuratively and literally)!  

4. UL Farms grant gets fresh veggies into students' homes

Student's social media posts about their cooking

Student's social media posts about their cooking

This fall, UL Farms received a grant from the Kaiser Foundation that enabled us to not only sell our veggies outside our neighborhoods through our CSA program, but also to send a bag of veggies home each week to our student crew. The students received nutrition and cooking classes to learn tasty ways to use what was in their bags, and challenged to post pictures cooking and eating their food on social media. This brought our UL Farms program to a new level of impact... not just providing first-time job experience and hands-on nutritional education as they grew food, but actually getting the produce into students' homes and teaching them how to use it. 

5. UrbanLife Strategic Plan

Strategic plans may not be the most exciting of highlights, but as an Executive Director, this definitely makes my list! In 2016, UrbanLife embarked upon our first ever strategic planning process with Board member and brand strategist Denise Yohn leading the charge. Through surveying, analyzing and countless hours of meetings, UrbanLife emerged with a focused strategy for the next three years: aligning programs and resources towards youth leadership developing in our neighborhoods. We are more committed and focused than ever to invest all our time and resources to raise up these young, talented, diverse leaders... believing that these transformed young people can and will transform our neighborhoods. That's pretty exciting, right?! 

Thanks for helping make all these moments happen! We are grateful for every volunteer, supporter, and prayer partner as we create safe spaces for students to encounter God and be developed as a leader! 2017 is guaranteed to be as full as this past year, and we can't wait to get the year started. 

Happy New Year from our neighborhoods to yours!

Restoring Voices through Reading

UCAN student Rico is a junior at Crawford High School and reads at a 2nd grade level.  His joyful demeanor masks a too common reality for recently resettled immigrants in this country – Rico is voiceless.  

Rico arrived to the United States from Guatemala in 2014 and was enrolled in school not knowing a single word of English and little Spanish, as his native language is a Mayan dialect spoken by only a small group of people in the world –Kaqchikel.    


At Crawford High, with over 30 registered languages and 80 different dialects spoken by the student body, it is an understatement to say that the school is poorly equipped to fully address the needs of its students. Rico is chronically behind in his classes, has a low GPA, and recently became ineligible to run on Crawford’s Cross Country team –the one level-playing field he had available to him.


When we met Rico and saw the huge gap between what he needed and what his high school could resource, UrbanLife knew it had to help. It is not justifiable to blame teachers and there was no more time to wait for ESL academic-reform, so UCAN devoted resources to bridging the remediation gap. This summer, UCAN hosted a five-week summer Literacy Program focused around five core reading strategies with high need ESL students. And this fall, UCAN completely shifted its focus to English & Reading Comprehension remediation in response to so many of our students in similar situations. Volunteers like Doug and Jeannie Amidon prepare customized ESL lessons to work one-on-one with Rico and other students who are recent arrivals.


We must continue to help Rico, because no one else is. We can’t let him be shuffled onto the next grade because of an under-resourced public high school.  Help us protect Rico from exploitation or becoming even more susceptible to illegal activity as a means to earn a living.  Instead, let’s get Rico to proficient 11th grade English, a monumental goal given the limited time we have.  But with your help, Rico hunger to learn the language and his commitment to show up at UCAN we can create a different future for this young student.

Fall Student Story: Tim T.


I've been in UrbanLife since I was an 8th grader. I really enjoy going to the weekly outreach program, summer leadership trips and Mission Weeks. During my freshman year I was part of UrbanLife's high school internship "The Come Up", and at the time, it was hard for me to take it seriously due to hardships around me. But because of it, I've learned a lot about my story and how to reflect and bring God into it.  I grew up in a radically embraced Buddhist home where I had to have good morals and follow all the teachings of Buddhism or Buddha would not love me at all. After four years of being a part of UrbanLife I have finally learned that God will love me no matter what I do. I don't have to follow strict guidelines to gain his love. I just always know that he will love me for who I am. 

I have learned that through anything I do God is always there to guide me with strength and guidance. I tend to have a lot of anxiety and had trouble dealing with it. After Camp this year I learned about prayer and was challenged by Romin to try to pray when I felt my anxiety.  I was surprised to feel God's warm light when I prayed and it really helped calm me down!

Life feels hard now but in my heart I know Jesus has a plan and he showed me Romans 8:18 recently and that has given me hope in the promise of future joy. I really like high school small group nights because I keep learning about a God who can help me find my real purpose. 

We did the math, and UrbanLife staff and volunteers have invested over 640 hours being with Tim, eaten over 320 meals with him and have spent many hours praying over his life. Why? All so he would know he's truly loved by God and has a community that believes in him.

Onto a New Track!

We had dreamed of this for four years, but when it happened we were still scared. Crawford High, the most diverse high school in California, was ready for us…but were we ready for them?

The Hoover cross-country team had grown in size and strength, and my husband Tlaloc and I had developed into coaches who were ready to take on our own team. There were more than a few challenges: Crawford hadn’t had a full competing team in 13 years, despite many newly arrived refugee students with undeveloped talent. We would be starting from scratch with students who had never heard of cross-country. We would be leaving Chris Brewster at Hoover High with a large team…but no assistant coach. We would have to stretch resources (vans, money, and tutoring volunteers) between two teams…would it be possible? We stepped forward in faith, believing that God would graciously provide for our needs.

And He did!

Telling the Hoover students was difficult for us, because we love them and their families so much! However, they really understand the vision of City Heights Runners and the need at Crawford. As Mirella Cruz said, "You gotta share the love, Coach." They thanked us and promised to continue to build a caring, supportive family culture of excellence. Hoover now has three assistant coaches including Spanish speakers, female coaches, and even a teacher at Hoover…all our bases are covered! Sharing resources has been a delicate dance, but things always work out. And the success of the Crawford team has blown us away!

We started coaching cross-country at Crawford six months ago, but God started working in our students’ lives many years ago. The team, which is almost entirely brand-new runners, has developed a really sweet family environment. These young athletes are refugees and immigrants, people who have been displaced and discarded by conflict in their home countries, only to arrive to a neighborhood familiar with violence and struggle and an educational system that is indifferent to their success or failure. They have created the family that they longed for within the team. They bring food for each other, cheer for each other at both meets and in school, and demonstrate amazing patience as they work to overcome language and cultural barriers to reach a common goal.

As coaches, we try to communicate the value that they have in God’s eyes through small practical actions. Every day, we bring fruit for a post-practice snack, we open our doors to feed hungry harriers multiple times weekly, we organize pool parties and movie nights for team bonding, we talk with their parents, and we help them reframe their difficult circumstances in a more hopeful light. The high value we place on the students as beloved children of God seems to be contagious, and the kids pass it on in the way that they treat each other. Many of the runners have expressed that this is the best team they have ever been part of the because it feels like their teammates and coaches really care about them, and many have committed to running during the off-season instead of playing other sports.

For being first-time athletes, the kids have really surprised us with their perseverance, resilience….and talent! On the boy’s side, Crawford went undefeated in league competition and now are the City League Champions for the first time since 2003, besides strong showings in invitations scattered across southern California. With the ladies, we had the first full scoring team since 2003 and took 3rd place in the City League. We hope that these brave ladies (who have overcome so many barriers just to join a sport!) are the vanguard of a new generation of female athletes from our neighborhood.

The unexpected success of the team has brought a flourishing of hope to the school. Teachers, administrators, security guards, alumni and other students congratulate the runners on their success. The janitors eagerly ask how the team is doing as they open up their office so we can get ice for a post-workout trash-can ice bath. Families come cheer at the races and generously supply food for all our events. We want this bright new hope to have staying power. It is hope to envision things not yet seen, to move forward together, to support each other, to be a transformed community. But these things are not yet fully a reality.

Students still struggle at Crawford to not only be eligible, but to thrive academically. Female runners face incredible obstacles before even stepping foot on the track. But you can make a difference for these athletes. By supporting UrbanLife, you give each runner a taste of a new future.  Every dollar you give that buys running shoes or puts gas in our vans makes a real difference for students at this struggling inner-city school. Let's partner together to keep these kids running!

Back to School in our 'hoods

Remember how it felt to head back to school each fall? Buying those new school supplies, meeting your teacher, finding your friends after a long summer? For many students, heading back to school is an exciting time of year (we know it is for parents!) 

For students in our neighborhood, going back to school isn't always that exciting. Imagine you're an English language learner and already failing your first progress reports. Or facing teachers that aren't creating learning environments, who don't seem to care about you or your success. Navigating the normal perils of high school, but adding gangs, racial profiling, and turf wars to the mix.

These are all things we've seen or heard from our students this fall as they return to school. Southeastern and City Heights are home to 7 of the top 10 most avoided neighborhood schools, and none of our schools make the top 10 best neighborhood schools list. 

But God has UrbanLife right in the thick of it! We are supporting our students and our local schools... by volunteering as Class Advisors, working with ASB leadership, or coaching and raising money for athletics teams. And when students need a break from homework, we've got safe spaces for them to learn about Jesus, make some new friends, and be loved on by our staff and volunteers.

Here are some of the ways we get involved on campus and beyond:

Volunteering on campus: One of our UrbanLife distinctives is Incarnational Ministry... taking a cue from Jesus and not waiting for students to come to us, but heading out to where they are...usually on campus! So Romin is the Crawford 2017 Class Advisor, trying to find the best place for prom, encouraging class leaders, and in general being an adult who cares about students and their senior year. Cindy is busy at Horace Mann, volunteering in an AVID class and making connections with middle schoolers. Amanda has been at Lincoln tutoring ESL students. And our favorite? Kathy Pham, Hoover High's lunchtime DJ. #spinningforjesus

Athletic support and involvement: City Heights Runners provides amazing support to the athletics departments of Wilson Middle, Hoover and now Crawford High school, mainly focused on Track & Field + Cross Country but also affecting other sports like wrestling and football. UrbanLife staff and volunteers coach teams, raise money, and even provide gear and trips that wouldn't be offered to these athletes. The impact is felt on middle and high school campuses and beyond, as we help athletes apply for college, connect with sports teams and coaches on campus, and even drive them hours to help register, move into dorms, and get settled. 

UCAN academic support: The UrbanLife College Achievement Network is there to fill in the gaps for students not at grade level, struggling to see themselves continuing their education past high school, or just needing a little extra homework help that they may not get at home. This year, UCAN will focus on our runners and helping everyone be and stay eligible. There is also tutoring happening through our UL Farm internships. And as we head into the college application season, UCAN will gather students from all throughout UrbanLife, taking them to college fairs, FAFSA info sessions, college tours and more. 

In truth, all of our programs are designed to support our students and continue to develop them as leaders in their neighborhoods. Our youth groups give them safe spaces to blow off steam from a heavy school week, play silly games, and hear about Jesus. UrbanLife Farms and Tables gives them job skills that will serve them now, and long after they graduate. Tutoring and running teams provide opportunities that otherwise wouldn't exist. 

We love students, and we want each one to succeed. But more than that, we want each student to know they are loved and cherished by Jesus, and that UrbanLife is one of their biggest fans. 

What would an UrbanLife summer be without life-changing adventure trips, leadership opportunities, jobs and of course...the summer hangouts! When it's hot, and you got nothing to do, we got you covered! 

Check out our line-up of summer happenings around UrbanLife, and get involved as a student or volunteer! 

UrbanLife Summer 2016 Timeline:

  • Wednesday, June 15th: CollegeLife Senior Night! 
    6pm @ Orange Avenue
    A chance for high school seniors to check out our CollegeLife community and get involved now that high school's almost over...! Contact for more info.

  • UrbanLife Table Cohort #2 Starts!
    Our second 10-week culinary cohort begins June 23rd. If you're 18 or older and interested in a paid culinary arts internship, contact for more info!

  • June 23-27 City Heights East Adventure Trip
    Crawford High schoolers, get your adventure on by heading up to Zion National Park. Contact for more info.

  • June 27-July 1 City Heights West Adventure Trip
    It's your turn Hoover High... adventure up in Zion National Park. Contact for more info.

  • June 28-July 26th (Tues/Thur 4-7:30p, Sat 8:30a-12:30p) UrbanLife Farms Farming 101
    Want a job this summer? Want to meet cool kids and plant some stuff? Apply for our Farms 101 summer farm internship. Contact for more info. 

  • July 3rd-30th Come Up: Summer '16
    Our Student Leaders Internship, Contact for more info.

  • July 10-Aug 12 UCAN Summer Literacy Program
    Come and boost your reading and writing skills with UCAN! Contact for more info.

  • July 5-9th CollegeLife Mexico Trip
    Come serve on our house-building trip for college students. Contact for more info.

  • July 24-29th Middle School Camp
    Our middle schoolers will head up to Forest Home for a life-changing week of camp! Contact for more info.

  • July 31-August 6 High School Camp
    Next the High Schoolers are headed to YoungLife camp for a life-changing week of camp!

  • August 7-14 Southeast Adventure Trip
    Lincoln and Gompers... your turn for an adventure trip to Big Sur and the Bay Area! Contact for more info.

  • August 14-18 City Heights Runners Camp
    The runners are headed to Santa Cruz for the week. Contact for more info.

On-going activities:

  • Summer Hangouts... fun spaces to meet new friends, explore who God is, and have fun. Contact (Crawford), (Mann), (Hoover), (Lincoln and Gompers).
  • Friday Night UrbanMic... fourth Friday of each month, going strong through the summer! Contact for more info. 
  • City Heights Runners practice... yes, it's hot, yes, we still run! Contact for info.

Banquet Thanks!

UrbanLife Celebration Banquet 2016

Our 6th Celebration Banquet was a great success on May 15th, with over 280 people in attendance, a fantastic culinary competition pairing San Diego chefs with UL Tables Culinary students, and powerful stories from our own UrbanLife students. 

Many thanks to our guest chefs from The Lab Dining, Harvest Kitchen, NV Private Dining, Cueva Bar, and our winning team, Moto Deli!  Many thanks to Snake Oil Cocktails for providing delicious "mocktails" and Twin Treats for some scrumptious desserts! 

Thanks to our 2016 Table Hosts and all our volunteers for helping put on a fantastic night of celebration and partnership!

Mission Week 2016

    by Romin Irani


by Romin Irani

Mission Week is one of the most important things we do here at UrbanLife. We challenge students to give up their spring breaks to be mindful of and serve others in their own neighborhood. That's a pretty big ask for a high schooler! Last week 23 students showed up to make a difference in City Heights.

We partnered with one of our initiatives San Diego Refugee Tutoring to put on a three-day camp for 29 of their English language learners, almost all have been in America for less than 3 years.

Josue who has been involved since he was in 7th grade, decided to join us this year. I remember Josue as a camper at middle school camp having trouble being kind to his roommates, having new issues daily with forward to Josue the sophomore at Mission Week, a young man whose leadership and excitement for kids was radiating.

Josue would raise his hand everyday during our debriefs about the camp and share his highlight "I can't believe how much I really enjoy doing things for these kids, I'm really looking forward to serving them again tomorrow." The whole week we taught on Philippians 2 and how our God is one who calls us to a team oriented, humble, selfless life of service to others as modeled by Jesus himself.

Josue not only heard the gospel at Mission Week, he was given a chance to LIVE the gospel out, to spend time with God and engage in his mission to change the world alongside others. Josue caught a glimpse of what a life following Jesus has the potential to look like and he was overjoyed by it more than we expected!

Thank you for all your prayers, Mission Week was a huge success... possibly our best week yet!

Deep Leadership Development: The Come Up Retreat

by Kathy Pham and Lina Bell

by Kathy Pham and Lina Bell

The Come Up Internship runs throughout the year with a cohort of hand-picked student leaders, meeting weekly, offering them significant leadership opportunities in our community, and doing the deep work of character building with Jesus as the main role-model, guide, and source of strength. Here is a report from our latest Come Up retreat... with powerful student testimonies.

Our hope for The Come Up Internship is to portray Jesus’ characteristics in our lives; specifically leadership with Jesus as our model. During our retreat, we focused on the events that occurred within Passion Week. The high school students examined how Jesus and the surrounding people initiated and reacted to key events in the passages. We learned the root Hebrew word for passion: suffering.  To better illustrate passion, we watched the film The Passion of the Christ.  The film exposed a lot of darkness!  After Jesus was crucified the screen blackouts and the stone is rolled away, the light begins to appear in the scene, comparably in our own lives we experience darkness and if allow it, God can pierce through the darkness and exemplify His light and sovereignty in our lives.  
After, art therapist, Lisa Kemble led our creative response. We created boxes which recognized the darkness that is prevalent in our lives and artistically depicted the amount of light we allow in it.  Boxes differed based on how much permission we allowed Light to enter into our darkness. *April painted a monster inside her box and drew a beautiful tree on the outside of her box.  She used the same colors inside and outside of the box because that is what God does; He redeems our darkness.
The spirit of God was moving throughout the day:
  • *Jasmine admitted that she shared the same behavior as Peter when he denied Jesus. She confesses that when it comes to her friends she doesn’t acknowledge and share her relationship with God, in a sense she denies Jesus.
  • *Brian identified and acknowledged Christ’s pain!  He was shocked by the pain Jesus endured and questioned why anyone would allow that to happen to Him.   
  • *Melody realized that God’s work isn’t something of the past but He is working in our lives now, *Melody said, “God has been saying a lot…that being perfect is not my objective but being human is.”
During the personal response time, students were asked to raise their hands to reveal where their hearts were. Half decided to actively seek Jesus!  They now are investigating what it means for them to live a life with and for Jesus with hopes to be world changers, truth tellers, and leaders in their own lives and the lives of their community.  The other half of the students reaffirmed their commitment to journey with Jesus and wanted to strengthen their relationship and intentionally live for Him!  
(*names changed to protect privacy)