Tameka Evans describes her self-portrait at the Bard College Course Graduation, June 9, 2015.
By Griselda Macias, Pre-college Coordinator
Tameka Evans with Griselda Macias at the Bard College Course graduation, June 9, 2015 at LAYC.
It was just a week ago when I was anxious and proud to see all my students graduate from the Bard College Clemente Course at LAYC (Bard). Every year in June I have the honor of seeing 20 plus students graduate from Bard, a course designed to provide students with an authentic college experience before transitioning to a long-term educational institution. Students who complete the requirements earn six college credits in the humanities.
Last Tuesday, as I announced each student's name and gave them their certificate of completion, I could see the joy and pride on their faces. Each of our Bard students has a story to tell, some are young parents, others are undocumented (dreamers), and some have been homeless. There's always a student's story that resonates in my mind, and this year was no exception.
Tameka Evans is a mother to three beautiful children, two of which she had while completing the course- twins! In the fall of 2014, when Tameka came to interview for the course, I remember asking her if she thought it was doable to enroll in Bard while parenting her three-year-old and being pregnant. Her quick and confident response was "Absolutely, I can do it!" One thing Tameka didn't tell me was that her living situation was not stable, but she started the course in September and quickly impressed me and her professors with the quality of her work and her dedication to learning. In January, Tameka gave birth to her twin boys and found a stable home. Within two weeks of giving birth, Tameka was e-mailing, calling, and texting about the assignments she needed to complete in order to not fall behind.
At the graduation, Tameka cried of happiness as she was presented with a scholarship for her unwavering commitment and bravery to continue to pursue her college goals and complete the Bard course. Tameka's story is not only inspiring, but represents the struggles that many of our young aspiring college students encounter. It is students like Tameka that keep me motivated and committed to our LAYC youth.
Montgomery County Conservation Corps 2014-2015 Cohort
By Eric Macias, GED Instructor - Montgomery County Conservation Corps
On May 29th, the Montgomery County Conservation Corps (MCCC) held their end of the cohort ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of the past five months. Our crews pushed past hot and cold weather to put in the necessary work to maintain the county's parks while maintaining educational focus. Building trails and compost bins, contributing to re-forestation in Montgomery County, invasive species removal, and wetland management are just a few of the projects the team completed this cohort. Our youth built relationships, environmental knowledge, campfires and skills for work and life.
Academically, it was an extremely successful cohort. From the initial group, five students have passed their entire GED test and attained a Maryland High School Diploma; another five have passed at least one section of the test, and four are ready to test in at least one section of the test. There were also other noteworthy successes in the classroom. For example, there were intellectual conversations based on Howard Zinn's literature that sparked critical thinking, a group effort to debunk social issues that impact our lives, and an amazing collaboration in solving what seemed to be terrifying mathematical equations. The students created a learning community that allowed them to reach some of their academic goals.
The success on the field while working at county, regional, and state parks mirrors the success in the classroom. The students learned many skills including plant identification and trail maintenance. One of the work sites was Rock Creek/Dumbarton Oaks Park where they helped clear 12,000 square feet of invasive species from Rock Creek National Park. They also worked at Eco-City Farm building compost bins, composting, building a small green house, removing invasive plants, mulching trees, and maintaining the farm.
The classroom and the field highlights don't necessarily illustrate the entire success of youth's success. MCCC youth also participated in other events that brought a positive light to the program and the youth themselves. For instance, Geovany Posadas, MCCC's Jr. Crew Leader, was part of a panel on Resilient Latino Youth that spoke at a National Council of La Raza event and on Capitol Hill. Tyriq Jordan, Christian McCleary, and Roland Spencer, participated in a conversation with Attorney General Eric Holder regarding police brutality.
To keep students motivated and reward them for their efforts, MCCC voted two or three different youth who excelled during the week. Students needed to have had a 100% attendance rate, had worked hard in the field, and had completed assignments and work in the classroom to be eligible for an award each week. That award was a wrestling belt: either national champion, inter-continental champion, or tag-team belts if two students were even. Every Friday morning, when we did our weekly announcements, we named the winner/s and everyone cheered. The staff decided to start a tradition that the youth who won the most belts throughout the cohort would receive a live-size cut-out of a wrestler with their face on it as we presented them with the award of most belts won in the cohort. Congratulations to Roger Dadja!
All in all, the past five months were filled with moments of success and laughter that helped everyone come together as a strong learning community and workforce program that focuses on the great achievements of our young men and women. The picture above, taken at the end of the cohort ceremony, exemplifies what that community looks like!
We now look forward to another successful cohort, which will begin on July 6, 2015.
The Clinton Global Initiative America "Reconnecting Youth" Workgroup Advisors from left: Thaddeus Ferber, Vice President, Policy Advocacy at The Forum for Youth Investment; Aundrea Gregg, Manager to the Clinton Global Initiative America “Reconnecting Youth” Working Group; Gail Gershon, Executive Director, Community Leadership, GAP, Inc.; and Lori Kaplan, LAYC President & CEO, Advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative America “Reconnecting Youth” Workgroup.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and LAYC President & CEO Lori Kaplan at CGI America in Denver, June 9, 2015.
For the third year, LAYC President & CEO Lori Kaplan served as an advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative America (CGI America) "Reconnecting Youth" Workgroup during the recent three-day convening June 8-10th in Denver, Colorado. As one of thirteen working groups, "Reconnecting Youth" brought together over 90 leaders from the private, non-government, government, philanthropic, and educational sectors to discuss pathways to employment and educational re-engagement for over five million youth in our country today. This working group was fortunate to be joined by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who highlighted the youth engagement efforts underway in his city to connect youth to education and employment opportunities. As an advisor, Lori worked to frame the goals, speakers and activities of the session.
The "Commitment Makers" at CGI America.
This year, LAYC along with others highlighted above, was one of 80 new CGI America commitment makers. LAYC's commitment is to create the Promotor Pathway National Network whose mission will be to scale and replicate LAYC's evidence-based model in multiple communities and schools across the country. LAYC's Promotor Pathway is a pioneering client management model designed to help the region's most vulnerable youth succeed academically, obtain long-term employment, and live healthy and productive lives as they transition to adulthood. Promotores provide intensive, long-term, one-on-one mentoring and case management to remove barriers to success and foster connection and self-agency. LAYC's first replication site Mano a Mano, is a community-based organization in Oregon.
Geovany Posadas at the NCLR Report: "Resilient Latino Youth: In Their Own Words" event, April, 30, 2015.
By Eric Macias, GED Instructor
On April 30th, Representative Tony Cardenas from California hosted a report briefing on Capitol Hill where a panel of experts talked about the adversity young Latina/os face that tends to lead them towards detention centers. The briefing was mainly based on the recently released NCLR report, "Resilient Latino Youth: In Their Own Words."
Geovany Posadas, a Montgomery County Conservation Corps participant, was part of the panel where he added a youth voice to the data collected in the report. His story of facing adversity fit well with what Patricia Foxen from NCLR, Maricela Garcia from Gads Hill Center, and Jeff Fleischer from the Youth Advocate Program (also a panelist) discussed in the form of statistics and shocking figures, such as the amount of money spent annually on juvenile arrests. I am glad and proud that Geovany spoke and personified what the report highlighted. Geovany's advocacy in support of other young Latina/os in similar situations as his exemplified the needed support of young adults and programs that create safe spaces for youth to create their own positive pathway towards adulthood.
By Geovany Posadas, Montgomery County Conservation Corps Participant
What I spoke about was the different situations I have dealt with in my life and how I overcame those situations. I have dealt with the juvenile system many times, and I overcame that by understanding that I was wrong sometimes. I wanted to change; I wanted something positive. I thought about the difference I can make for my future, and I made changes.
I thought the event on the Hill was interesting. I got to learn more about youth adversity and the ways that we as a community can help those in need. Youth are actually our future, and we have to help build that future. Youth make mistakes and maybe end up in jail, but the government keeps them in cells without any intention of helping create their new futures. I felt as if I was a person who could help contribute to this change. I want to be able to give back to the community after being helped by a community.
#LAYCDreamers and allies march in Columbia Heights to the immigration reform forum, April 30, 2015.
by Cecilia Dos Santos, Healthy Relationships Program Coordinator, and Heryca Serna, Healthy Relationships Case Manager
As Congressman Luis Gutierrez looked down at her from the stage repeating, "You will be a U.S. citizen," Kathryn's hopes and dreams came to the surface and a single tear rolled down her cheek. He was speaking directly to her, but as we witnessed this exchange we sensed the relief, hopefulness, courage, and optimism overflowing from the entire audience. On April 30th, the local community welcomed the Congressman to Bell Multicultural High School where over 40 LAYC youth packed the aisles, sporting vibrant red #LAYCDreamers t-shirts, flashing posters exclaiming "Keep Our Families Together!" and chanting in unison against deportations. The energy in the room was electrifying and impossible to ignore. This was our community, vibrant and demanding to be heard. The feeling of unity, particularly among all of LAYC's youth, was present. One young man, full of enthusiasm despite not identifying as Latino or speaking Spanish, was there as an ally supporting immigration reform vital to his community.
#LAYCDreamers and allies stopped for the perfect photo op at the "My Culture, Mi Gente" mural in Columbia Heights by artist Joel Bergner, April 30, 2015.
Congressman Gutierrez is traveling the nation on his Immigration Action National Tour to educate communities about the President's executive orders on the expansion of DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals) and new DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans). Two young women from LAYC were among those selected to ask questions. Kathryn and Claudia chose to address the Congressman from their own life experiences and with a hope for ensuring a safe future for their entire community. Specifically, they spoke to the need for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, and about the human rights protections for Central American children fleeing violence in their home country.
LAYC has been a safe space for youth and families, offering opportunities to improve youths' lives with education, wellness, and job-readiness programs. One of those is the Healthy Relationships Program, which aims to support youth survivors of dating violence and sexual abuse. During our weekly Nuestras Voces (our voices) group, we invited our participants to attend this immigration rally, and immediately Claudia's eyes grew wide. We had her full attention. Claudia was eager to know how she could be more involved. Youth and immigrant women are often invisible within this growing movement. However, Claudia and Kathryn recognized this rally as an opportunity to raise their voices, share their experiences, and take action in a movement for change.
The young women in our Healthy Relationships groups know that we cannot address the causes and solutions to dating and sexual violence without also acknowledging the injustices faced by our communities. This means talking about the reality of youth's lives: living in fear of deportation, family separation, and police brutality which deny young people the opportunity to continue their education, seek dignified employment, support their families, and live their dreams (#LAYC Dreamers stand with #BlackLivesMatter). Youth navigate complex systems that constantly challenge their attempts to end cycles of violence. These intersectional issues are ever present for our program participants and other LAYC youth. It is in our Nuestras Voces meetings and public spaces such as the Congressman's rally that LAYC elevates youth, like these young women, to make their voices heard. When we uplift the voices of those who have been silenced and pushed to the margins, we raise the voices of all our youth seeking justice, safe families, safe homes, and safe communities.
As staff witnessing the courage and leadership of youth like Kathryn, Claudia, and the other LAYC supporters at the rally, we intend to keep this sense of community moving forward.
On June 6, LAYC will host a free DACA application preparation clinic for eligible youth. Please help spread the word, and offer your time to this great cause. With your support, we will continue to empower all of our extraordinary young people.