By Tyvon Hewitt, AmeriCorps member in LAYC's education team
Some of us youth at LAYC grew up without enough of something. Maybe it was food, maybe it was money, and maybe it was time with our parents. Many of these issues are familiar to kids who grow up in low-income families. But, do we know why people like us and our families are poor in the first place?
I learned how to answer this simple yet profound question in the Undoing Racism training, a two-day experience taught by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond. Many of us, myself included, are taught that people are poor because we make bad decisions, we don't know how to handle our money, or we have too many kids. In the Undoing Racism training, I learned that some people are poor because the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within our society is unfair. Within our communities, there is the practice of redlining by banks and real estate firms and gentrification. Schools in poor communities may hire under-qualified teachers and use biased standardized tests that leave many children of color behind. Some schools favor students from white, wealthy families or employ racial stereotyping in identifying students for gifted and talented programs. These unfair systems keep wealthy people wealthy, and poor people poor.
At LAYC, many staff and some youth have taken the Undoing Racism training. Some of us came out of the training feeling very inspired: what we can do about how unfair our world is? Since that time, we created the Community Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE) staff committee. We are a multi-ethnic, multi-racial group of LAYC staff who envision a society where race does not determine a youth's success and well-being, and we work to create organizational and structural change with staff, youth, and community members.
We're looking forward to bringing a new opportunity for LAYC staff to engage in racial justice advocacy, which we do in a number of ways. First, we host short trainings to support staff members to incorporate racial justice into their programs. With the recent shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement, it is critical to talk about racial equity and social justice issues in our programs. We also put on cultural events throughout the year, including to celebrate Black History Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Eid al-Fitr for the end of Ramadan. We also plan to get more staff to attend the Undoing Racism training and host other cultural celebrations, giving youth and staff as well as the local community access to different cultures and experiences. Finally, we are creating a youth-powered advisory group to both advise LAYC programs and be anti-racist advocates and community organizers.
I joined CORE so that I could be on the ground implementing change throughout the community with like-minded individuals. It is my firm belief that, as the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
After a year of hard work, challenging assignments, discussions, and reflection, the LAYC Bard College Clemente Class of 2016 celebrated the completion of the academic year. With the help of four faculty members, our students gained skills vital to thrive both inside and outside a classroom. Our goal was to equip students with tools to help them succeed in accomplishing their goals after the course, and to become more civically engaged.
On June 2nd, our graduates lined up outside of our community room as they prepared to walk to the sound of their class accomplishment in remaining consistent for almost ten months of the program's duration. Parents, relatives, mentors, coordinators, and LAYC staff gathered and welcomed the graduates with big smiles, thunderous claps, and heads held high. THEY MADE IT!
In addition to celebrating the graduation, Bard graduates received a few surprises to reward their performance. Four graduates received the Mary D. Janney Scholarship awarded to students who exemplified devotion to personal improvement, perseverance in spite of obstacles, and demonstrated a good attitude that contributed to the spirit and personality of the classroom. This year, Leidy Castillo earned her place as class Valedictorian, Enzo Leonzo as Salutatorian, Miguel Castro Luna for his perseverance, and Lleraldi Chavez for her commitment.
(Left) Leidy Castillo, class Valedictorian, right, with Bard Program Coordinator Jennifer Betancur.
(Right) Enzo Leonzo, class Salutatorian, center, with Bard Program Coordinator Jennifer Betancur, left, and former program coordinator Griselda Macias.
(Left) Miguel Castro Luna, recognized for perseverance, center, with Bard Program Coordinator Jennifer Betancur, left, and former program coordinator Griselda Macias.
(Right) Lleraldi Chavez, recognized for commitment, center, with Bard Program Coordinator Jennifer Betancur.
Additionally, one Bard graduate received the Carla Alfaro Scholarship. Named in memory of Carla Alfaro, 2013 Bard graduate, who embodied embodied positivity, grace, strength, and determination despite the obstacles during her journey.
Carla has left an inspiring legacy to her two children, Andrew and Destiny, and to every past, current, and future Bard student, faculty member, and program coordinator.
She encouraged those around her to recognize every moment in life as a blessing and to never to give up on a dream. As a program and family, Bard will always hold her memory dear to our hearts. This year, Ingrid Hernandez was the recipient of the Carla Alfaro Scholarship for overcoming challenges inside and outside the classroom and working hard to be an example for her son.
Congratulations to our 2016 Bard College Clemente Graduates!
LAYC's Montgomery County Conservation Corps (MCCC) has taken on job training in the solar industry thanks to a partnership with GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, a non-profit that brings together community partners, volunteers, and job trainees to implement solar power and energy efficiency for low-income families in Maryland, DC, Virginia, and Delaware.
MCCC participants work toward their GED while gaining hands-on experience in the conservation field. While MCCC has tackled reforestation, watershed renewal, and natural habitat restoration, this is the first time MCCC participants have worked on solar energy installation.
"We're so thrilled to partner with GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic to introduce our Montgomery County Conservation Corps participants to jobs in the solar industry," said LAYC President & CEO Lori Kaplan. "Not only are our youth learning job skills in a high-growth field, they are also giving back to communities of need in our region."
Since April of this year, 15 MCCC youth have completed a week-long hands-on solar energy installation training that included workshops on safety, electrical wiring, and warehouse management. They completed mock installations and two solar residential installations in Southeast and Northeast, Washington, DC. Clients from those installations will save an estimated $40,000 combined throughout the system lifetime!
Photo courtesy of GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic
"The LAYC youth we worked with were great in the classroom workshops and on residential solar installs. They asked several questions about the installation process, our homeowner population and the solar industry," said Sienia Arku, Workforce Coordinator with GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic. "This partnership supports GRID's mission to make solar accessible to everyone, and allowed GRID to train 15 volunteers in solar installation."
MCCC youth had a blast learning new skills and exploring career pathways in solar. "It was cool to do something I've never done before," said Tysean. "It opened my eyes to possible jobs in the future." For Ronnie, "Maybe in the future I'll get a job in solar...maybe even working with GRID Alternatives because it helps a lot of people and it helps the environment."
"GRID was thrilled to host LAYC! We love our job training partners; it allows us to provide hands-on experience in the solar installation field, as well as give the job trainees an opportunity to see the positive impact they are making on the homeowners' lives," said Executive Director of GRID Alternatives Mid-AtlanticNicole Steele. "We are looking forward to continuing this partnership with LAYC in the future," she added.
We are so thankful for our partnership with GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, and we are proud to recognize them as our July 2016 Champs for Youth Partner Spotlight.
The Riverdale team dressed the part at the first annual Superhero Summer Health Fair, Saturday, June 4, 2016.
El Chapulin Colorado serves up popcorn to health fair guests.
Our Riverdale team hosted their first annual Superhero Summer Health Fair for over 150 community members Saturday, June 4, 2016. The health fair emphasized healthy living and wellness in our community during the summer months.
The youngest guests came clad in their favorite superhero costumes and enjoyed a moon bounce, bean bag toss, ring toss, popcorn, and great music.
Families received summer safety tips and health resources from health and community organizations including American Red Cross; Prince George's Police Department; Amerigroup; Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; La Clinica del Pueblo; El Zol; and Maryland Physicians.
Health fair guest Yolanda Quintanilla and daughter Supergirl discuss summer tips with exhibitor T-Mobile.
"This was an amazing event! I was able to acquire several resources. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the costumes and skit," said health fair guest Yolanda Quintanilla.
The fair premiered Ameri-Con, an informational video cast with superheroes who need vaccines and their blue-haired doctor. The video was produced by MMYC Riverdale staff and AmeriCorps members. Enjoy!
The SevaTruck team from right: President and Executive Director of SevaTruck Foundation Sonny Kakar and volunteers Nidhi Gulati and Rebecca Cohencious at the May 24, 2016, event.
Is that a food truck in Columbia Heights? Yes, it is! But, it is not selling anything at all. In April of this year, LAYC partnered with SevaTruck Foundation to serve free vegetarian meals to LAYC participants with the highest need.
The LAYC-SevaTruck soft launch event April 14, 2016.
SevaTruck is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in December 2015 and represents the first food truck in the D.C. metro region that is exclusively dedicated to serving free meals to the community. With a mission to combat hunger, serve humanity, and build unity, SevaTruck's ability to be mobile and agile in serving hot food where and when it is needed enables it to supplement the metro region's many brick and mortar food banks.
"We are so grateful to Sonny Kakar and the SevaTruck Foundation for selecting LAYC as a partner in carrying out our mission. So many youth in our community do not have access to nutritious meals in the afternoons," said LAYC Community Wellness Director Mike Leon. "Many of the youth we serve really only get a solid meal while in school. Providing a warm, nutritious meal to a cross section of very hardworking young people who are often over looked in traditional meal programs, serves a very critical need for us," he added.
SevaTruckserved its first meal to the LAYC community in mid-April. The next meal date is Tuesday, June 14. SevaTruck will offer two services on the 14th: at Noon in front of LAYC's building on Columbia Road, NW, and at 3 p.m. in front of LAYC's Safe Housing office on 15th Street, NW. Youth identified by LAYC receive tokens to exchange for a healthy, delicious meal on the day of meal service.
"We are so privileged to partner with the Latin American Youth Center to serve free nutritious hot meals to their youth," says Sonny Kakar, President and Executive Director of SevaTruck Foundation. "It is astonishing to me that Washington D.C. has the highest rate of food insecurities among children. When I heard that, I knew immediately that we had to do our part to address the most basic, fundamental need of food for those in need right here in our back yard," continues Kakar. "More importantly, in the case of LAYC, we have the opportunity to mobilize our SevaTruck and make immediate impact to youth and children who may not otherwise have access to a hot, nutritious meal."
We are so thankful for our partnership with SevaTruck, and we are proud to recognize them as our June 2016 Champs for Youth Partner Spotlight.