Wednesday, June 27, 2007

World Vision's Youth Empowerment Summit Begins

In the sweltering heat of downtown Washington, D.C., in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, more than 40 teens boarded a bus to take them to World Vision's first Youth Empowerment Summit. Young people from New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Tacoma, were heading to Chevy Chase, Md., to the meet up with teams from Appalachia, Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Albany, Ga., and Washington, D.C.

High spirits prevailed as the bus made its way through D.C. neighborhoods. Paul Patu, leader of the Seattle delegation, tried to lead the bus in that perennial Seattle favorite, the Wave. The front of the bus, with the New York delegation, responded enthusiastically, but ironically, the back of the bus — filled with the Seattle and Tacoma delegations — did not join in. This was probably due to the fact that they had arrived at 8 a.m. after taking the red-eye flight from the Seattle/Tacoma airport.

At check-in, each youth participant received a gift bag, a folder with the schedule, and a map of Washington, D.C. Once they found their rooms, the first activity was dinner. Then they had some free time to relax and get to know one another better.

The Evening Program

The program kicked off with some light entertainment by DJ Cause and MC Effect. Then, to "break the ice," four staff members volunteered for a game similar to musical chairs. But when the music stopped, participants did not just lose their seat. Instead, Samantha, from the D.C. group, walked back and forth behind them with a cup of cold water, which she poured on the unfortunate staff person.

Finally, the evening's keynote speaker, Alexi Torres-Fleming, executive director of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice from the Bronx in New York, encouraged the youth: "You are too necessary for the world," she exhorted them, "[and] it's time for you to take your place as leaders.”

Looking Forward

Anel and Karas, both from the New York delegation, were inspired by Alexi's speech. They each pulled out several pages of key points they wanted to remember from what Alexi said, especially her comment: "God doesn't call the prepared. He prepares the called."

"I starred that," said Anel. "It really got to me that people are waiting for us."

She added that it gave her strength and hope when Alexi told them not to forget who they are. Karas said the speech made her realize that she "can't wait for someone else to come along."

Anel looks forward to being able to partner with teens from the other cities after this conference. "I want to come back next year," she said, "with 50 people! The more [people] we have, the more our communities are changing."

On June 28, it's on to the Capitol where each team will meet with its respective legislators and talk about issues in their own communities.

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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