Q&A Sessions An interview with our friend, shelene

A mother, singer, friend, volunteer, and strong leader in our community. Shelene has been a part of our family for a long time. Learn about her and all of the steps she is taking to empower youth through the YUPP Organization.

(5 min. read)

Shelene and her husband, Theo at our 2019 Holiday Wish Drive.

Q: You have been a volunteer at Family Giving Tree for over 10 years! What first got you into volunteering and how has generosity changed your life and the others around you?

A: The mission of FGT caught my heart from the very beginning. I initially came with an agency that was receiving gifts. I had never seen anything like their Holiday Drive. The following year, I debuted a nonprofit children’s choir and invited staff of FGT to be some of our special guests. They fell in love with one of our students at the time, affectionately known as “little Nevin.” I remember one time, while I was pregnant with my daughter, I volunteered at the Mervyn's warehouse with my family and Nevin's family. I’ve been there ever since. Volunteering with FGT is an invaluable gift. Over the years, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to see transformations from hopelessness to being filled with hope and joy through the generosity of FGT.

Over the years, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to see transformations from hopelessness to being filled with hope and joy through the generosity of FGT.

Q: Tell us about Youth Utilizing Power & Praise (YUPP) and what they do. How did the organization get started and why?

A: Youth Utilizing Power and Praise Nonprofit is a cross-cultural network that seeks to empower the whole being through performing arts, fine arts, public speaking, and sports. We serve persons between the ages of 6-25. The organization started with myself and my Hispanic friend. It quickly became my brother’s desire to create cultural diversity and support through the means of the arts on the Eastside of San Jose.

Q: Tell us about the impact you feel YUPP has made (if any) in the African American community.

For the past 15 years, YUPP has become a safe place for many youths from across the Bay Area. We have had a broad scope of youth over the years, from foster care to wealthy children who are missing attention, love, and everything between. Because of this concept of family, we’ve had to do rescues from hotel rooms, reporting of abuse, bringing some of the students to live with us for a period, funerals for some of our babies (they will always be my babies) killed unjustly. On the other hand, we have celebrated marriages, high school and college graduations, sponsored their businesses, and in some cases, our greatest celebratory moment was just knowing that they chose to lay down gang activity to live a better quality of life. We’ve had youth with learning and physical disabilities, who learned how loved and known they were, defy the odds through our programming. One of my favorite moments a few years ago was seeing one of our students with down syndrome perform a solo dance piece at our annual performance. We’ve recorded two professional CDs, taken youth (some of which who never traveled before) across the nation on tours. We’ve done annual arts performances since 2007, Live Out Love Sessions (a suicide awareness event for youth), and annual backpack and toy giveaways. We’ve also served in senior homes and food banks. We teach that as you are blessed, be a blessing to others.

Shelene with youth and members of YUPP

Q: It's been almost a year since your album, "Songs From The Altar" debuted. Who are some artists that you look up and why? How have they influenced your work?

A: I love Kirk Franklin, Beethoven, Mahalia Jackson, and Quincy Jones to name a few. While these span many musical genres, each person defied the odds (socio-economic, physical disabilities, racism, lack of parental support) to become successful. Persons like Kirk Franklin and Quincy Jones believed in young people enough to invest their time, energy, and resources into ensuring that they were able to reach their greatest potential in life.

Q: I saw that YUPP recently hosted a Poetry Slam. I bet many enjoyed this especially during a time of isolation and social distancing! Tell us about the event and the creative space it provided for youth in our community.

A: It was amazing! We had four of our students perform and five special guests from across the country. It was one of our most well-attended events since the SIP.

Q: What are some upcoming events that YUPP will be hosting? How can others get involved or join?

A: We have a business planning workshop and dance clinic slated for July. We also do mentorship calls twice a month with young men which are overseen by my husband Theophilus Booker. Others can be involved simply by emailing us at Shelene-booker@yupporg.com or following us on Facebook and Instagram under 'YUPP ORG.' You can also see some of the work we’ve done on our website www.yupporg.com.

Q: Tell us about your relationship with Family Giving Tree and other organizations that you’re involved with. How do you juggle between volunteering and leading within your community?

A: I’ve been an Angel Elf with FGT for many years. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to be a bridge and voice for other organizations who are doing integral work in the community. I’d say I’ve become a master juggler. I’m passionate about both; however, I believe the greatest key to this is operating in integrity and purposefully having accountability measures that we govern every interaction by.

Q: What is your favorite part about the YUPP Organization?

A: Being part of seeing a young person's dreams come alive because someone believed in them.

Q: What is your best tip for empowering youth in our community?

A: Listen and don’t leave. They are bound to make mistakes. We all did at this age. They need to know that someone will stay with them not because they’re perfect, but simply because they are loved.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: “It’s Ole Do that counts”. My 78-year-old father has instilled in me that love is an action word. It’s not what I say about something, it’s what about I do about that shows my true character.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their very own non-profit organization?

A: Make sure that three things reign supreme in your life: being a continual learner, maintain passion even through opposition, let your goal be to influence someone to positively affect the community in a greater way than you ever could. These three things will create a legacy connected to your name. Just ask Jennifer Cullenbine.

Granting Wishes For Joy And Learning To Those In Need