Mission, History, & Vision
Pongo Poetry Project uses personal poetry to facilitate healing among those coping with devastating traumas, such as abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence. Our mission is to engage youth in writing poetry to inspire healing and growth. Pongo was founded on the knowledge that poetry writing offers a unique vessel for healing from devastating trauma. At the heart of our program is the Pongo Method, an evidence-based, trauma-informed technique for teaching poetry, created in collaboration with child psychiatrists, expressive writing therapists, and academics. Pongo envisions a world where all youth who have experienced childhood trauma are seen, heard, and affirmed in their full humanity; where youth have access to the support and resources they need to heal, grow, and lead dignified lives.
The need for Pongo’s work is more urgent than ever. Childhood trauma is pervasive in the U.S., and is associated with higher rates of depression, alcohol dependency, and suicide. Pongo primarily serves youth of color, youth in poverty, and incarcerated youth. Youth hailing from under-resourced communities bear a disproportionate brunt of such trauma. Studies show that youth in poverty are 74% more likely to have experienced trauma than those from wealthy families. Black youth are 45% more likely to have experienced trauma than white youth. The pandemic has exacerbated such trauma among youth of color and those in poverty, damaging their mental and emotional well-being.
What We Do
Pongo implements therapeutic poetry writing workshops inside detention centers, psychiatric hospitals, and other sites frequented by youth with histories of trauma. By working within these facilities, we are reaching youth who hail from communities that lack opportunities to engage in creative expression and find healing. Offering opportunities for healing and recovery are crucial to the healthy emotional development of the youth we serve, who exist at the intersection of racial injustice and economic hardship.
Pongo has mentored poetry with over 6,800 people. Our evaluation results demonstrate that Pongo provides significant therapeutic benefits for youth, helping them find relief, derive creative joy, and experience growth through poetry writing. Our methodology creates a safe space for young people to unburden themselves and articulate the full extent of their suffering in response to their traumatic experiences. Pongo youth writers consistently express themselves in a healing way about traumas they have never previously discussed. Our authors find joy in their accomplishments, pride in their authorship, and continue to write after Pongo.
Based on the success of our direct service work, we established the Ignite Pongo Training Series. Through Ignite Pongo we to train individuals and organizations on the Pongo Method, our research-backed trauma-informed technique for poetry mentorship. In 2014, we codified our methodology in Writing with At-Risk Youth: The Pongo Teen Writing Method, using it as the teaching text to conduct 85 trainings on our approach. Ignite Pongo has spurred the creation of 96 projects based on our model in locations including, established in locations including: Seattle, San Diego, New Orleans, San Salvador (El Salvador), Krakow (Poland), Cape Town (South Africa), and Shimane (Japan).
Through our publishing program, Pongo has published 16 anthologies featuring work produced by youth at our poetry mentorship sites. These volumes describe profound tragedy and sorrow, but also capture the self-discovery and healing that creative expression inspires. We have donated over 17,000 copies of these collections to youth and program providers during our history. Our publishing program inspires confidence in the youth we serve, demonstrating that their creative output has artistic merit and value. Furthermore, it connects our youth authors with the wider community, raising awareness about their trauma, the conditions that give rise to it, and the resilience they demonstrate in response.
The Echo Glen Children’s Center is a juvenile rehabilitation facility in Snoqualmie, and one of Pongo's flagship sites in the Pacific Northwest. Our GiveBig campaign is raising funds to provide weekly therapeutic poetry writing workshops for youth at Seattle area sites like Echo Glen.
Pre-pandemic studies of incarcerated youth demonstrate that up to 70% suffer from a mental health disorder and that many have experienced childhood trauma. The pandemic, imposed isolation, and subsequent economic turmoil have exacerbated this issue; damaging the mental and emotional well-being of youth at Echo Glen.
Pongo has nearly three decades of experience in supporting youth in coping with such trauma. With your support, Pongo will share the transformative power of poetry writing with youth at Echo Glen, inspiring self-discovery, insight, and healing from the trauma they’ve endured.