This blog is part of a series of posts highlighting the 10 inaugural grantees of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund.

Serving San Diego’s Youth

It all started with a garage and a dream.

Brandon Steppe, Founder and Executive Director of David’s Harp Foundation, left his corporate job to transform his father’s garage in Southeast San Diego into a recording studio. When a high school sophomore learned about Steppe’s studio and started recording music with him, Steppe quickly learned how powerful the platform of music can be for young people.

That’s how David’s Harp Foundation was formed. Through art, music and media, David’s Harp Foundation serves young people from ages 13 to 24 and teaches them the value of relationships and connection.

“Our artist mentors are using the platform of music to meet young people in the spaces they want to be in – amazing recording studios, video production studios,” said Steppe. “We’re really earning a relationship with young people by being transparent and honest about who we are and allowing them to walk into those relationships if they’re willing.”

David's Harp

Relationship Ripple Effects

The community of young people David’s Harp Foundation serves range from those experiencing incarceration to homelessness and/or those in the foster care system. The result of the relationships formed includes everything from workforce development to entrepreneurship, and even young people navigating probation successfully.

That’s true for Destini Cardenas, who works at the organization.

“It’s really helped me a lot mentally, emotionally and even just stably,” Cardenas said. “My daughter and I have an apartment now. I have a car. I’m able to get to and from work and pay for things I didn’t think I’d be able to pay for.”

Jeremiah Redbird credits the organization as an instrumental part of finding his creative side.

“The first time I ever got in touch with my creative side was in quarantine,” Redbird said. “It just helped me realize that I could do something for myself. Even if I had no one to listen to me, I could listen to myself.”

Redbird aspires to be a professional music producer and videographer. He came to David’s Harp at age 16 from an incarcerated space.

“[David’s Harp] used to come in and make beats for us and we would rap on the beats for them,” Redbird said. “When I got out, I made a vow to come and check them out. I did and I loved it.”

David's Harp Foundation

‘Walking through the Mud Together’

For all of their mentors, employees and interns – David’s Harp Foundation is a vital support system. Members of the organization use the phrase ‘walking through the mud together’ as a way to describe the ways in which they are there for one another.

“Most places have a ‘leave your luggage at the door’ mentality,” said Evan Yamada, the BizPod Supervisor at David’s Harp. “Here, bring your luggage in and let’s open it up because we all have it.”

This type of open forum has created a family feel and welcoming atmosphere for many – including Cardenas.

“Since I came to David’s Harp Foundation, I’ve had a sense of confidence. Everything comes out of love, it’s not anything forced,” she said. “It gave me a sense of you can do this. They reminded me I am strong. Above all that, I have brothers and sisters to walk through the mud with me no matter what we go through.”

Staff at David’s Harp do everything with one goal in mind, and every day is impact in itself.

“Sometimes when a young person walks through the door, that is the impact,” Yamada said. “The biggest thing I want them to take away is to know they are loved.”

David’s Harp Foundation is an inaugural grant recipient as part of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund, but are also partners in San Diego Foundation’s Expanded Learning initiatives.

David's Harp Foundation

About the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund

In February 2023, Jay Kahn, a local entrepreneur and music lover, donated an unrestricted $100 million cash gift to San Diego Foundation – the largest-ever gift of its kind to a local nonprofit. Thanks to his generosity, SDF created the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund, which will perpetually benefit San Diego.

The first grants from Kahn’s gift, which is the third-largest gift of its kind to a U.S. community foundation, include $150,000 unrestricted grants to 10 San Diego-based music education nonprofits to advance their work in the community. The grants intend to grow music appreciation in San Diego in memory of Kahn.

One of the inaugural Jay Kahn Endowment Fund grantees is David’s Harp Foundation. Its mission is to inspire, educate and empower system-affected and homeless youth to achieve academic success through music education, sound engineering and multimedia production.

Jay Kahn was born on February 23, 1932, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, to a recently immigrated German father and his second-generation wife. Jay left Benton Harbor just out of high school after receiving a full scholarship to study clarinet at the University of Texas, Denton. Though he didn’t finish the program, classical music, specifically chamber music for winds, remained a lifelong passion of Jay’s. He played in several ensembles around San Diego, including orchestras at UC San Diego and the University of San Diego.

Learn how you can give with San Diego Foundation.