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Storied: San Francisco

Feb 27, 2024

Huckleberry Youth, the non-profit providing care and housing for underserved youth, celebrated 50 years back in 2017. In Part 1 of this episode, we meet Huckleberry consultant/advisor Denise Coleman and the organization's CEO/executive director, Doug Styles.
Denise was born at what is now Kaiser's French Campus on Geary. Denise, who is Black, shares the story of the hospital making her dad pay cash for their labor and delivery services, while it was obvious that white folks were allowed to make installment payments.
Born and raised in the 1950s and Sixties, Denise and her family lived in the Haight/Ashbury neighborhood, as it was known then (now we call it Cole Valley) on Belvedere Street. She has three sisters and a brother, her dad worked two jobs usually, and her mom stayed home. She describes a childhood that was fun, filled with activities like roller skating, skateboarding, and homemade roller coasters.
Denise was a teenager during the Vietnam War and took part in protests. She describes a history of friction with her mom. When Denise was 16, one of her sisters OD'd on drugs. Still, despite the trauma that came with that, she graduated high school from St. Mary's in 1973. At this point in the podcast, Denise rattles off the San Francisco schools she went to.
After high school, she joined some of her cousins and attended the College of San Mateo. Denise never thought about or wanted to leave the Bay Area, she says. In an apartment on the Peninsula, she and her cousins had "the best time." After obtaining a two-year associate's degree, Denise says she wanted to go to SF State, but didn't connect with it, and so she started working instead. For two years, she flew as a flight attendant for the now-defunct Western Airlines. After that, she collected debt for a jewelry store, then worked as a credit authorizer for Levitz Furniture in South San Francisco.
Denise says she got hung up in the crack epidemic in the Eighties. She started with cocaine, and that led to crack. She was an addict for eight years. She got herself into a rehabilitation program at Delancey Street and stayed in the program for seven years. Her time started in SF, then took her to Santa Monica, North Carolina, and New York state.
In 1998, Denise decided to leave Delancey Street. She got a call from Mimi Silbert, the Delancey founder, with an offer to work at their new juvenile justice program in San Francisco. Denise said no at first, partly because she wanted to stay in North Carolina. But after some persistence from Silbert, in 1999, she said yes and came back to her hometown. After seven years away, The City had changed.
And so Denise helped to establish Delancey Street's Community Assessment and Referral Center (CARC). After its first year, the organization realized that they didn't have the capacity to run the program. Delancey Street asked Huckleberry Youth to take it over, and this is how Denise ended up at Huckleberry.
Doug Styles was born and raised in the Richmond District. He was too young to remember the 1960s and mostly grew up in the Seventies. Doug says he had a lot of fun as a kid, describing riding his bike to the beach and back by himself. He shares the story of going to a late movie in the Mission, so late that when he got out, there were no buses. And so he walked home through the Mission, through the Fillmore, to his home in the Richmond.
He also rattles off San Francisco schools he went to, including Lowell. Doug was in school when the SLA kidnapped Patty Hearst. He was at Everett Middle School when Dan White assassinated George Moscone and Harvey Milk. He speaks to tensions in The City around this time, and Denise joins in to talk about the day of the assassinations.
Doug graduated high school in 1983 and went to UC Santa Cruz, where he majored in theater. He moved to Massachusetts, where he found work in a theater. After a short time out east, he came back to San Francisco and tried unsuccessfully to get into grad school. So he enrolled in a masters program at CIIS for drama therapy. Following that degree, Doug went back east, this time to Connecticut to work at the VA's National Center for PTSD.
After another return to the Bay Area, he got his doctorate in clinical psychology. At the VA, Doug had worked with adults, but the jobs he found here had him working with youth. He had a job on the Peninsula for 10 years, during which time he became a father to two kids, which he says changed him more than anything else.
One day he saw that the Huckleberry Youth executive director was retiring. Doug applied and got the job, and has been with the non-profit ever since.
Check back next week for Part 2 and more on the history of Huckleberry Youth.
Photography by Jeff Hunt


We recorded this podcast in December 2023 at Huckleberry Youth's administrative offices on Geary.