Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ready to Make a Change

On Wednesday, the delegates met one last time. The speakers were four of their peers: Jonathan of Picayune, Miss., Ebony of Tacoma, Wash., Stephanie of Chicago, Ill., and Reggie from Washington, D.C.

Jonathan with his trainer, B.J.Jonathan told of troubles in his past that caused his mother to send him to live with his coach. There he flourished, making straight A's in his classes. Then on June 29, 2007, the coach got a call about a fire at the home of Jonathan's parents. When he and Jonathan arrived at the house, the coach told Jonathan to wait. Jonathan said that he kept waiting for his mother and father to come around the corner and say that everything was OK. They never came. Jonathan's parents both lost their lives in that fire. He said, "In some ways I am still waiting to see them turn the corner."

Despite his grief, Jonathan moved forward. "I refuse to be another statistic," he told those present. He urged his fellow delegates to not let this time in Washington D.C. to just be a trip. He told them to refuse to become complacent. "We [must] demand for our voice to be heard. We are the future!"

Ebony followed and talked about the power of teamwork that she has seen manifested in the Youth Empowerment Project. "We all lean on each other," she said. "Together all of us can hold up the next generation."

Stephanie with Cynthia, the Chicago team's leader.Stephanie's group leader Cynthia made the introduction. "I am blessed that she is part of this program," she said. "But I'm not going to talk too long or I'll start to cry." Stephanie then took the mike. "I've always believed my opinions don't matter," she began. She remained quiet for years, not expressing her opinions. When she got involved in the Youth Empowerment Project, she tried to keep quiet at first, but she was encouraged to speak out. She discovered that her opinions did matter. Also through, the Youth Empowerment Project she said that she "felt adults were truly listening." Stephanie finished her speech saying, "With the confidence that I have received, I believe I've come to show my true self."

Reggie with his team leader, Raimon.Reggie said that he used to be "overwhelmed by the mindset that there's nothing we can do." He saw that he used to allow the issues to control him and take away any hope he had built up. He encouraged the audience to stop letting those issues control them. He urged them to become "advocates of change. Future generations are counting on us!"

Lina Thompson, National Training Director for World Vision U.S. Programs, ended the conference. "You've been about the things of the heart of God," she said. "You are part of God's plan to [take] things that are a wrong [and] to make them right." She asked them to become a generation that would say that power is limitless and be willing to give it away.

Signing the 2008 YEP posterShe described for them some of the future opportunities that would be available for them through the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP): training to become YEP leaders, paid summer YEP internships, a national youth advisory council, and national YEP scholarships to continue their education.

Lina finished by encouraging them to live by Micah 6:8. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Then it was time to go. All the delegates crowded around to sign the Youth Empowerment Summit poster. They exchanged contact information, said their goodbyes, and then headed back to their communities, ready to make a change.

Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day 4: Taking the Hill

"Are you ready to take the Hill?" asked Seattle youth leader, Paul Patu. And with that, the teams were off to practice their policy presentations. Then it was back to Capitol Hill.

Each of the teams had the opportunity to lobby their members of Congress and let their voices be heard today. This was the culmination of all their work for the past twenty weeks.

Jillian Eloby, second from left, tells of the gun violence in Chicago and the people she has lost, The Chicago delegation started their day with John Marshall, a member of Rep. Bobby Rush's staff. Each team member had written one recommendation and presented it. All the points touched on gun violence and how to combat that. Jillian Eloby talked about the deaths of people she knew. "It hurts my heart," she said. Later in the day, she told Barack Obama's representative that these incidences, "lit a fire in me."

When they finished, Mr. Marshall talked about the Can Do bill he has been working on for Rep. Rush. "A lot of your policy recommendations are going to be in our bill," he said. "We need the community to get involved and demand that this bill move forward." He challenged them, "We need leaders like you to step up." Then he finished with a compliment: "These are excellent policy recommendations."

DeAndria Harris, of Albany, Ga. stands in front of the Capitol Building.Members of the other teams expressed similar positive results. During a debrief time after dinner, each group got to talk about their experiences. Many mentioned being impressed that their representatives and senators would sit and talk to them.

Jonathan Amosa, of the Seattle delegation, said that the one of the biggest learnings he came away from his experience today was that, "Congressmen are people too." Someone with whom he and his friends could hold a conversation. "From beginning to end [of the day], it just seemed like God was on our side," Jonathan continued. "He's doing something."

Valerie Riccio, from West Virginia, exclaimed, "Today was amazing!" She confessed that at the beginning of the day she had felt extremely nervous but afterwards said, "It was the best experience I've ever had in my life. I really feel like I made a difference."

Jonathan Billips of Picayune, Miss. makes a point to Rep. Gene Taylor while teammate Hannah Alley listens.Gabe Hinojosa of Mississippi talked about what he wanted to say to his friends back home. "Now I can't wait to go back and tell them about this experience… It really is a real movement and it can be done. So I'm excited to voice that to my peers and get their support." He continued, "I’m very excited. I feel like we're about to march our seven times around the wall shouting. And we're about to see the walls come down."

Romanita Hairston, vice president of World Vision's U.S. Programs, told the delegates, "It was great to hear you all challenging your leaders." Then she talked about how the young people had affected the adults who work with them. "We are changed every moment we share with you."

Romanita discussed the future impact of the Youth Empowerment Project, "Ten years from now we will look back at these kids and these kids will be the ones who are leading our communities."

Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 3: Learning to Make an Impact

Akira Casch, Fundisha Tibebe, and Luisa Ashenfelter, of the Seattle delegation, stand at the Foggy Bottom Metro stop.
The day began with a ride on the D.C. Metro — a first for many of the delegates visiting from around the nation. "I'm learning my way around. I love a challenge," said Jillian Eloby from Chicago.

The teams traveled by train from Foggy Bottom to Union Station, then walked over to the Dirksen Senate Office Building. There they met with a panel from IMPACT — an organization of people in their 20s who have banded together to increase civic engagement and raise awareness of the political and legislative processes. Hannah Alley from Picayune, Miss., said she was surprised and inspired by the youth of the IMPACT team.

Meeting with members of the IMPACT team on Capitol Hill.YEP delegates got to sit on the very dais where their states' senators sit. Angela Rye of IMPACT encouraged those in attendance, saying, "You're never too young [to get involved in the government process]." She ended her presentation with these words: "You have the power within you to start a movement. You are the change. You can be the change!"

Hannah Alley of Picayune, right, shakes hands with IMPACT member, Angela Rye. Center is Malon Murphy of Los Angeles.During a Q&A session afterward, Angela mentioned the page program available to high school students around the country. It offers them the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill for a quarter or semester. Over lunch, Malon Murphy of the Los Angeles delegation said, "I'm going to apply for that page program. I don't know if I can get in, but I'm going to apply."

Teams spent the afternoon sightseeing. They got to choose between the Holocaust Museum, the Air & Space Museum, the National Cathedral, or the National History Museum. At dinnertime, they met at First Baptist church — a World Vision partner in the Petworth neighborhood.

Tali Hairston of the John M. Perkins Center spoke passionately about creativity as a necessary component of social change. Another principle, he said, is "practicing paradoxical curiosity"
in other words, taking opposing opinions and holding them together. He encouraged the young people to "do what 'they' say can't be done. You're going to have to take a risk to create change in your community," he said. Tali left the delegates with a final thought: "Always believe that the boundaries around you can change because of what's inside you."

Valerie Riccio, Aaron Kittle, and Rodney Feaster, of the Appalachia delegation, visit the White House on the night time tour of the D.C. monumentsHe got a standing ovation. Afterward, the delegates asked questions and shared their thoughts. "You are so empowering," said Nor'Vessa White from Seattle. "You really make me feel like I can make a difference in this world."

The day ended with a nighttime walking tour of the Washington, D.C., monuments. Then it was back to George Washington University for a few hours of sleep before the full day on Capitol Hill meeting with senators and representatives.

Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 2: In the Classroom

Most of Sunday's agenda involved workshops where the delegates deepened their knowledge of advocacy. They included titles such as "Creative Activism," "Raise Your Hand," "The Power of the Youth Voice," "Environmental Justice," and "Jesus the Troublemaker."

Shauntae, Renee, and Malon from Los Angeles view a film showcasing the Christ of scripture."I find it hard to talk about advocacy without talking about Jesus," said Matt Belgie in the Jesus the Troublemaker workshop he led. In the first exercise, he had people write down some of the images of Jesus portrayed in the media. Words such as white, wimpy, and weak came up repeatedly. Then groups watched video clips of scripture portraying Jesus. His point? The Jesus in scripture is much stronger, much more powerful, and much more of an advocate for the oppressed than he has been portrayed in the media. He spoke out and protected the oppressed.

Creative Activism explored ways to set up an attention-grabbing campaign to raise awareness of issues. This was the one workshop that asked the delegates to remain with their teams so that they could formulate their ideas for their communities. Teams built their campaigns around the policy recommendations they plan to present on Capitol Hill. The Environmental Justice workshop raised the question, "Are environmental concerns an advocacy issue?" Most definitely!

Samuel Everett of the Youth Evaluation Team leads the Raise Your Hand workshop.Raise Your Hand — a workshop on techniques for gathering data — was a unique program because it was taught by a team of young people who attended the 2007 Youth Empowerment Summit. The Youth Evaluation Team was assembled to look over last year's participant evaluation forms and make recommendations on how to improve this year's Summit. "I've learned that evaluation is a lot tougher than it seems," laughs Samuel Everett, who says that he hopes the size of the team increases next year. He also hopes to "get different youth in there because they provide different experiences that will only make [the program] stronger."

Stephanie Villarreal from Chicago found Juan Pacheco's workshop, The Power of the Youth Voice, especially powerful. "He really inspired me," she says. "I actually felt like I could make a difference. It's up to us to make this change."

Juan Pacheco wears the attire of his past in the Power of the Youth Voice workshop.Juan Pacheco, a former gang member who now works with young people in that same community, provides a powerful visual to his message by beginning wearing "colors" often associated with gang members. He ends wearing medical scrubs and a doctor's coat to represent his future. Juan's urged the delegates, "Don't be afraid to go back to that 'hood [their community]. That world needs you."

Monday's schedule will present the delegates with the week's first trip of two to Capitol Hill. That will be followed by a museum tour and night tour of the Washington monuments.Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Emerging Leaders

The theme of the second annual Youth Empowerment Summit is "emerge" — emerging leaders and emerging communities. More than 70 young people from nine cities across the United States are coming together this week to be a voice for change in their communities. While the policies they plan to present to their members of Congress vary, each team has the same goal of bettering their community.

The Albany team performs their cheer for all the YEP delegates.This year upon arrival, each delegate received a backpack filled with goodies, including a disposable camera to document their experiences this week. Both before and after the official program ended, some of the teams took to the streets to get a first-hand look at some of the sites in the nation's capital.

The evening's official program kicked off with each city coming up with its own unique cheer. The creative juices were flowing for that exercise.

Youth culture specialist Jeremy Del Rio was the first speaker of the week. He exhorted the young people to "take to heart the lessons you've learned for the past six months [of the Youth Empowerment Project.]" He encouraged them to "be courageous enough to ask for big favors so that our cities and communities might eventually be transformed."

Hannah Alley, of the Picayune, Miss., team, says of the six months of training involved in the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP): "My mindset definitely changed. I learned that I really can make a difference. We don't have to wait on the government. We can go home and make a difference."

The team from Picayune, Mississippi explores Georgetown.Jacob Hickman, also of the Picayune team, says being involved in YEP was "something I couldn't pass up." He says he sees the policy recommendations his team will present as "a seed that will emerge as a beautiful flower." He describes the training as "exhaustive and exhausting." However, he says he now feels like "every member of our delegation are all qualified to be trainers [now] because of the structure of the [YEP] curriculum."

Tomorrow's schedule is packed full of more training opportunities for the delegates with workshops, lectures, and more time to explore!

Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Youth Empowerment Summit Gets Underway

by Leonetta Espy

In our society, the voice of young people is often discredited. Teenagers can be dismissed as part of the problem and rarely valued as part of the solution — especially in our most vulnerable communities. World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) is working to change that.

Shawn Dunbar, a Youth Empowerment Project participant, is learning to be an advocate for his community.Teen Shawn Dunbar, a current YEP participant in Albany, Ga., says, "[The Youth Empowerment Project has] opened my mind to a lot of things about community problems [and] also how to fix those problems; things that we can do to give a hand in fixing those problems instead of just flowing with the crowd — actually take a stand and do it right." In nine of our U.S. Programs sites across the country, young people are finding and cultivating their voice to impact the world around them.

More than 70 youth like Shawn have completed a six-month intensive training series. The training cultivated skills to help youth find their voice, understand the power it has, and learn how to use that power to impact and create positive change.

The six months of training culminates in this week's Youth Empowerment Summit in Washington, D.C., where the youth are gathering together at George Washington University for four days. During this time, they will share their ideas and visions to improve their communities, be encouraged and inspired by nationally known speakers as well as their peers, and present their own policy recommendations to their respective congressional representatives on Capitol Hill.

Following the summit in D.C., youth participants will continue on in their journey toward becoming agents of change by hosting World Vision-sponsored local projects, participating in YEP internship opportunities, and accessing YEP college scholarships and much more. YEP is designed to help move young people in our most vulnerable communities from disempowerment and apathy to empowered change agents.

Look for daily coverage of this exciting event on this site.