Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How Does Hope Show up in Your Community?


"My group is amazing! All of us are really eager to go out and make a change," says Christopher, 16. "There's people in the group that feed the homeless. They are volunteering at shelters, trying to help children. You know, just helping out. This is just the beginning and we didn't have any help doing this. What can we do with World Vision and the whole city behind us to push us?"

Christopher can't say enough good things about World Vision's Youth Empowerment program, which he has been attending for the past 15 weeks. He recently sat down to talk about the program and his time with a group from Tacoma, Wash., as they prepared for their trip to the Washington, D.C., area.

At first, the group struggled to choose a topic. Christopher explains that they came up with their own unique solution: "We worked for two weeks to find one topic and we're like, OK, this isn't working. We finally came to the conclusion, why don't we just do them all? I mean, we do them all so well, and we love them, and we're so passionate." Each person got an opportunity to explain where they see hope.

"I'm with an amazing group of people. I love them. Each week is different," Christopher says, adding that the programs and topics they discuss bring them together and allow them to express their feelings in a safe environment. "No wondering, 'Will they be my friend next week?' or 'Will they be mad at me?' or 'Do they think I'm stupid?'" The Youth Empowerment program equipped Christopher and the team with tools to get their voices heard. "You can talk like a grown-up about topics and get your point across and be what you've got to be," he says.

Christopher first heard about the Youth Empowerment program through Club Friday. His mentor, Diana Young, also a World Vision employee, told him about an underage club in Tacoma that provided a safe environment for youth to mingle, listen to music, and dance. But, he says, it is more than just a club. It is a caring environment where the Youth Empowerment meetings have taken place for the past 15 weeks. It provides life tools — of which the Youth Empowerment program is a part — to youth. "That's part of my hope," Christopher says. "I want there to be a Club Friday in every city. It's a place to have fun, but it's also a place to get ready for the real world.

"They pretty much teach you how to fly," he says, adding with a laugh, "and then fly with you your first few days."


"I run an after-school program [in Auburn, Wash.] and I've worked there all year," says 19-year-old Natalie. "I like being involved with youth. So when I heard about [World Vision's Youth empowerment program] I wanted to get involved. I thought it would be interesting to meet people that do have a vision."

The interview for the program was a different type of interview for Natalie. She felt the staff asked really good questions such as what would you change in history if you could. Natalie answered that she would not want to change anything. "I think it all happened for a reason and we wouldn't be where we are today [without it happening]. Learning from it is more important."

The other question that stood out to her was what would you change in society right now. She explains that she has noticed that many people forget the United States as a potential mission field, instead focusing on Third World countries. "I think it's just an opportunity—there's so much youth and so much talent and people being neglected."

Her faith is a crucial aspect in her involvement in the program. "I think God puts you where you need to be. And I think if you have Jesus in your heart then he's going to use you wherever you are."

Natalie looks forward to meeting all the people from the other groups during the Summit. "I think it's kind of important to see where everyone's coming from. I think it'll be a really positive thing." She continues, "I think people will learn. I know that people are excited." Meeting the state legislators is another thing that Natalie looks forward to. "I think my only expectation of them," she says, "is for them to be really open and hear what we're saying."

When the summit in Washington D.C. concludes, Natalie hopes that the Tacoma group can "change some of the views that business owners and just some of the older community have about the youth. I think that their vision is really skewed," she says, then adds, "and for good reason. They're going off of facts that happened [in the past], but at the same to be able to say ok, well guess what, yeah that was a youth but there's also these youths too. They're all different. I mean look at us individuals instead of the category." She adds that the teens also need to look at the business owners as individuals.

"Putting yourself out there is really the hardest thing because I think that people just really stay in their comfort zone," Natalie says. "There's so many ways that you can touch people and change their lives. Love is a powerful weapon."

This conference was supported by and produced with funds from Award No. 2005-JL-FX-0142 awarded by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

No comments: