Tuesday, October 07, 2008

ARC Grads participate in the "Sierra Nevada Youth Empowerment Program"

ARC Instructor Deb Colley just returned from Mammoth where she & several ARC grads attended the Sierra Nevada Youth Empowerment Program. This new program provides a venue where "urban and rural youth from throughout the state of California...convene to discuss community issues and bridge the divide between their experiences."

The SNYEP is a recent addition to the Sierra Business Council's annual conference, titled this year: "Sierra Solutions Conference: Tools for Sustainable Communities, Economies and the Environment".

Here's Deb's conference report:



I want to report on this conference on several different levels: literacy and leadership, exploring self and community for the internship, individual student growth, and opportunities to represent and network for all the ARC programs.

Literacy and Leadership

In terms of ARC outcomes, this experience was full of literacy development opportunities. They were asked to make a poster of community issues in the Tahoe Truckee Area, report in front of the other youth, and then they put together a presentation to present in front of 200 adults (all business owners, city planners, etc). They were amazing. They wrote an outline for their presentation and then narrowed down what each of them were going to say on a note card (they even made outlines for what they were going to write on their post cards). Each of them were extremely motivated to choose their words wisely, and when reporting on immigration and gentrification issues in their community they each worked really hard to make sure that the information they were sharing was about bringing awareness instead of being controversial. Mara also had the opportunity to read her poem in front of this 200 something audience and Jasmine read her youth of the year speech. The director of the SBC actually quoted Mara in his closing speech, which was really special and empowering for her. AND BEVERLY! When she got up to talk about her community issue, made steady eye contact with the audience, stood still and strong, and kept her hands away from her face and hair (huge steps of growth for her in terms of speaking in front of an audience).

During the different conference sessions, I challenged the girls to split up and go to sessions that interested them. I was worried that they would get nervous and want to stick together, but they had no problem taking that challenge on. I made sure they sat with someone who could help them with big vocabulary words. I sat with Beverly and Mara at a session titled Connecting People to the Land. First thing they did when they sat down was pull out their journals and started taking notes! pages of notes! I wrote down and defined big complicated words that came up, and they immediately copied them down (things like land trust, long range planning, stake holders, environmental justice, particulate matter, clean air act, clean water act). Session talked about the importance of involving the community in city planning and also the importance of people knowing their basic social and environmental rights and holding the government accountable. At the end Beverly asked a question that related to the topic she is covering in her intern project about how to engage the hispanic community... it was GREAT! Ruby brought a list of words to me each time she came out of a session and wrote down the definitions I gave her.

There was one particular conference session about Youth Empowerment and Engaging Youth in the community. For the first half, all the youth participants (20 students) sat in the middle and had a fish bowl discussion about youth community issues. This was another great public speaking opportunity and the facilitator was really good at asking the students to be specific and to think of reasons for their opinions. Jasmine spoke alot during this, but she had to think through her answers a little more, and other students challenged her point of view (which was great for her to think about the different sides of arguments). Ruby, Mara, and Beverly spoke much less than most of the other students, which was huge learning for me. We still have work to do in terms of building self confidence in unplanned public speaking. I asked them about it afterward, and they agreed that they feel silly sharing their opinions when they don't have the same huge vocabulary pool to pull from. I tried to encourage them to continue speaking up even if they didn't have any fancy words... and after that they really did try and shared some inciteful and inspiring things with adults.

Jasmine learned how to network, and she collected alot of people's business cards.

In terms of leadership, these ladies helped set the tone for the group in terms of working hard. They always had their journals, they were always taking notes. They were also great participants, they were present, excited, and supportive. When the group went climbing Mara and Beverly in particular volunteered to belay, recruited a back up belayer, and cheered people up the wall. AND BEVERLY! again... she amazed me. She said she wasn't sure if she wanted to climb, but got on the wall in the end and zipped up and down the wall (she spent something like 20 minutes + on a climb this summer). She had a huge smile on her face when she got down.

I asked them to not speak spanish when they were with the group and we talked about reaching out to others and spreading ARC compassion. They had trouble with this at first, Jasmine of course always slipping into spanish to tell a joke or to share a saying, but after a while they started noticing that they were leaving people out that they wanted to get to know and made a significant change.

Overall, I felt like I got to see them use so many things they had learned from ARC. They challenged themselves, they were excited about any opportunity to learn new vocabulary, they had an awareness of others and were supportive, they processed their experience with me and others, they used the public speaking skills they had learned at ARC, they continued to talk about and work on the ARC core values, and they completely blew the adult conference participants away.

Exploring Self and Community/Focusing on the Internship Project

It was pretty amazing for these ladies to share and compare their community issues with other youth. It really helped them break down some misconceptions that they had, but it was also very emotional for them to realize that so many people had no idea that there was such a large hispanic population in Tahoe, or what is was like to be an immigrant and/or an english language learner. And they also learned how controversial the whole immigration issue really is. They took every thing in with such grace, and still had the courage to share their experiences and perspectives. Beverly actually learned so much from people that she decided to change her topic from just trash to gentrification ( a word she learned this past week). She hadn't realized that it was an issue until this conference and then got really passionate about it. If anything, the conference reinforced the importance of youth sharing their voice and perspective about their communities and also gave them opportunity after opportunity to explain their issue and why it is important. They were completely fired up each time we had an intern meeting between sessions.

Individual Student Growth

I am going to be brief here, because I could write a page for each girl.

Jasmine and Ruby stormed... oh man it was intense! but were able to come back together and work it out! I felt like they were able to move beyond somethings left over from the 07 summer.

Mara and I talked a length before the conference about her fear to mingling and hanging out with people who were not Hispanic. At one point she said something to me like, "I don't get along with Americans" and I asked her whether she thought that was a self imposed statement or a fact ( I also pointed out that I was American and that we had a really close relationship full of trust, respect, and laughter and she tried to argue that it was because I was an ARC instructor and therefore not an average an American, HA!). She was really nervous before the conference, but I watched her speak more english than spanish AND reach out to other youth participants and adults. She gave her poem to a Piute elder that was at the conference too. And then, when she got up during the awards ceremony, she shared that she had learned the importance of talking to people of different ethnicity (yes, she used that word instead of race) and that she found that she can be friends with anyone. And then she shared how important it was to do everything with style and explained what style meant to her (and I am of course crying in the back).

Ruby had this realization about the impact she can make in the world. I think so much of her efforts to be involved in so many things at school has been so focused on breaking out of a stereotype and being different. But she was really struck by the degree to which people, youth and adults, listened to her and believed in her and realized that she can make a difference in here community. She shared that she wants to be the pebble in the pond and that she DOES believe it is possible for her to be that. Huge growth in self worth and confidence from just a year ago.

Jasmine was made for conferences and networking and public speaking. This girl has NO inhibitions. It was great to see her in action. She wrote something in her youth of the year speech about the importance of creating yourself instead of finding yourself, and she shared that this conference reinforced her belief that it really is all about creating yourself.

Beverly came out of her shell, made new friendships with the 07 girls, and found her voice in the group. She is a really responsible individual, listens intently to others, always gives 100%, and keeps an open mind. She shared that she never knew that adults cared about youth, and that now she knows to always share her perspective because you never know who is listening. I thought this was a great realization for a young woman who tends to be quiet and reserved. She never lost her temper with anyone, and was always able to talk it out!

And for me... I am completely amazed by the new level of trust and respect I built with these guys over the weekend. We had alot of fun together as an ARC group, but I was also able to talk with each of them on a very personal level at some point. I also learned the importance of structure and youth/adult collaboration. these guys have so many great ideas and are really good a motivating their peers. I should really be engaging them more with the ARC outreach programs in order to draw our ARC family closer together.

Representing and Networking for ARC as an organization

Our students speak for themselves... and they were constantly talking about their ARC experience, how they grew from it, and all the support they are continuing to get from ARC. Adults were continually blown away by their maturity and how well spoken they were. And as a result so many people came up to me at the conference and asked me about ARC and its programs, students, and wanted my card ( I REALLY needed one this weekend). There were a lot of people from the Mammoth Bishop area (business owners, city council members, the environmental programs director at mammoth in particular) who were interested in started and ARC program in their area for the large number of hispanic students in their area (I have their contact information). There was also a student from Mammoth who is "half mexican" as he put it, who said he would help start an ARC program if we were interested. I made no promises and said I would share this all with my director.

Overall, the amount of interest and desire to support ARC was amazing. I know that much of it was due to our amazing students representing us, but it certainly helped to have me their to explain the program and its different locations. I definitely think there was more potential to really network, get support, and perhaps future funding for our programs.

Oh... did I mention that I met and spent quite a bit of time with Steve Hagler from the Stewardship Council? He had the opportunity to engage with our students, which maybe reinforced how amazing ARC is.

So the take home message from this entire conference is that is was definitely worth our time and effort, it completely supported the ARC intern project, and that I need a business card. I think that we should engage ARC interns in this conference again in the future. They should be working on a related project to help them focus, engage, and motivate themselves. We should definitely share this years finished project with the SBC, as their conference really helped jump start and fire up the process.

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