Wednesday, June 27, 2007

How Does Hope Show up in Your Community?

This question was put to more than 90 teenagers across the United States when they began World Vision's Youth Empowerment program 15 weeks ago. At the three-day Youth Empowerment Summit beginning today, each of the teams from nine cities across the United States will get the chance to answer.

"Youth being more active in the community overall is something that I'd like to see," says 20-year-old Samuel explaining why he wanted to be involved in World Vision's Youth Empowerment program. " To me, I felt that doing the YES summit would be a great way to be a part of our community in a different aspect and to be able to advocate for things that I believe should happen." One of those things he wants to happen includes young people having a bigger voice in the community.

Samuel first heard about the Youth Empowerment program through his volunteer work with Club Friday in Tacoma, Wash. When Deanna Neidlinger, a World Vision staff member told him about the program, he says, " I knew that was going to be fun. [I knew] I was going to learn a lot and I have."

A big part of the program for the Tacoma group has been discussing teens' interactions with the local businesses. Samuel sees the need for his group and other young people to be more active in community and city decision-making processes. The Youth Empowerment program provides tools in the lives of these teenagers to make this happen.

He currently works at a middle school in Tacoma, Wash. He helps run an after-school program and also acts as an assistant to teachers during the day. Samuel's answer to the question posed for each group's media project revolves around his work. "I see hope in the after-school programs concerning the kids and just giving them the attention that they need concerning academics."

He is excited for the visit to Washington D.C. Having never been, he looks forward to seeing some of the national monuments and meeting with other groups from all over the country. When his group returns to Tacoma, he looks for them to make an impact in the community. "I know that after we come back we're supposed to do something with the business leaders. I don't know what that's going to look like. I don't want to come back and say ok, cool that was a fun experience and go home and that'd be it. I want to do something where we [get] the kids involved."

Samuel says to people consider the Youth Empowerment program in the future, "If you believe you can change this community or you believe you're an important asset to your community, then this is something that you want to do."

Finally he thanks World Vision "Just for you guys supporting youth; just giving these kids—especially at Club Friday—a chance to talk about issues that they really feel in their heart. And to be able to give us a place—a forum—to be able to pursue that."

Ebony, an enthusiastic 14-year-old, exudes passion when she talks about World Vision's Youth Empowerment program. A fire burns in her to change the world. She calls it "the fire of God." She first learned about the program through her sister, Kanda, who works for World Vision. She says that she did not think much of the offer at first because as she says, "My teachers at school are like you should do stuff like that. But sometimes it's a little boring."

However, once she started the program she realized it was something special. "Oh my gosh, it is so great! It's just so super. I didn't know. We took out of it way more than I would expect. She describes Deanna Neidlinger, the leader of the program in Tacoma, Wash. as a great advocate for the teens in the program. "She knows we can do whatever we want to do and that's what she's all about!" Ebony says.

She continues on describing the team, "All the people that are in our youth program are just so amazing. They are so different—like we all come from different aspects [of life]." Part of the beauty of this program has been to encourage young from different walks of life to come together and learn from each other. They have spent 15 weeks in a safe environment in which to express their viewpoints and passions in a manner that makes it more likely they will be heard. The program gives them the tools so they can be their own advocates.

Of the upcoming conference, Ebony says, "D.C.'s going to be amazing! I just want to meet the other youths and see what they're like." Each group will meet with their state legislators while at the conference. Ebony confidently says that what she wants to tell them is, "Basically, to just reassure them that we're going to change the world."

She hopes that when the group returns from Washington D.C. that they will be able to bring everyone in the downtown Tacoma community together and come up with a plan of action that includes everyone. "[I want to] stop acting like we're three different tribes in the same neighborhood, you know," she says.

Ebony enthusiastically recommends the Youth Empowerment program. "I would tell anybody to do it. Anybody! Even if they think they're not leadership material. It doesn't matter. It's just so amazing!"

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.

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