by Alyson Moore, Riverdale AmeriCorps Program Coordinator
LAYC was thrilled to attend the NCLR Conference in Kansas City, where we were honored with the LGBT Affiliate Champion Award for our LGBT transitional living program, and our AmeriCorps program in Riverdale claimed two additional awards.
Our Riverdale AmeriCorps program received the national award for Outstanding Community Service Event for our annual Haunted House, which reached over 500 students and community members. The event The AmeriCorps Haunted House is a true community event, bringing present and former AmeriCorps members and local families together to provide the community with a fun and safe event. The annual event addresses a specific need in the Riverdale community: youth crime. For years, the weeks leading to Halloween consisted of rampant vandalism and illicit activities. Our AmeriCorps program set out to provide area youth with a safe and enjoyable outlet.
We are especially proud of AmeriCorps member Luis Ostolaza Martinez who received the Director's Choice Award for his outstanding dedication to service through the program's partnership with Prince George's County Public Schools. Luis also received the Fedex "Spirit of Service" Award, which came with a check for $3,500 to go towards furthering his education.
Luis is a full-time member serving with the AmeriCorps LAYC/MMYC in Riverdale, Maryland. This award recognizes Luis for his dedication, peer collaboration, attendance, commitment to the organization, and overall excellence. As an AmeriCorps member, Luis works closely with eleven eighth grade students while also being available to work with all students in his assigned classes. One of the greatest improvements among his students is the change in the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) scores. His students have increased their scores by double, shown in the results of the second series of testing.
"The most rewarding success story thus far in my professional life has been the academic success of my students this year. Winning this award has given me the motivation to keep putting all my efforts toward helping youth reach their goals, and repeat the successes that I have seen in my students," Luis said as he accepted his award.
LAYC descended on the conference with ten AmeriCorps members, a handful of staff, and Lori Kaplan, LAYC President & CEO. We heard from three presidential candidates including former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O' Malley, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. They spoke about immigration reform, education, and the minimum wage. One of the highlights of the conference was having a private meeting with O'Malley, where our AmeriCorps embers shook hands, asked questions, and even took selfies with the former Governor! Also, during the conference, our AmeriCorps members participated in the Lideres Summit, attending workshops, listening to speakers, and networking with other young professionals in the educational and nonprofit fields.
The entire LAYC team had an amazing conference experience and came back empowered, refreshed, and reenergized to continue their work with youth in our region.
"The conference challenged me in ways I am so grateful for. It was so empowering to see other Latinas doing the work that I want to do when I get older, and really affirmed that I'm on the right path," shared AmeriCorps member Lesley Canales.
Me acuerdo la primera vez, I remember the first time, I thought of a bicycle as a way to be seen in my community. It all happened when I was riding with a group. I had my little bike crew when I was in middle school. My brothers, my neighbors, and I would plan these ‘missions’ or adventures, to either the pool, the store, my tia’s house, or wherever as long as we were riding together. As I jump on my bike today, I take in the breeze, sights, and big, deep breaths that allow me to prepare myself to walk into a school full of middle school youth energy.
Questions such as, “Can I ride your bike?” “Do you bike in the rain? in the snow? in this type of heat?” I say “Yes!” Last summer, I was told to get ready to run a summer camp for the middle school youth I was working with. At the moment, I thought, what would the youth like to do during the summer? How can I share the power of bicycling during this time? Words such as visibility/visibilidad, mobility/movilidad, community/comunidad, language access/acceso linguístico and adventure/aventura were all words that helped plant the seeds of the bilingual Bicycle Adventure Camp (BAC), Campamento de Aventura en Bicicleta here at LAYC.
Fast forward to this present moment, it is the second summer of BAC. In partnership with Gearin’ Up Bicycles, 16 LAYC youth received a bike that needs love, work, and to be used by them! Through the power of bicycling, we are enriched physically and mentally, gaining knowledge and practice of bike mechanics, bike safety, environmental and social issues, and for some learning how to ride a bike for the first time.
Youth also develop map reading and writing skills through daily creative workshops, completing weekly themed zine projects. Through zine writing and mapping, youth share their stories and experiences with their community. Bicycle Adventure Camp is more than just bike riding; it is an opportunity for youth to be active in their community, with a focus on leading healthier lives at the completion of the program. When we are able to work together and ride together, we can make any adventure happen!
“Creo que cuando la comunidad no ven en bicicletas, talvez pienso que también quieren andar en bicicletas. Con las revistas ellos pueden saber lo que hacemos. Yo me acuerdo cuando no sabía cómo andar en bicicleta, tenía miedo de caer, pero cuando me caía estaba bien porque sé que me gusta andar en bicicleta. Yo creo que ahora estoy más fuerte, porque creo en mí mismo que lo puedo hacer.”
“I believe that when the community sees us on the bicycles, I think that maybe they would want to ride bicycles as well. With the zines, they can learn more about what we do. I remember when I didn’t know how to ride a bike, I was scared to fall, but when I fell I was okay because I knew I like riding bicycles. I believe that today I am a lot stronger, because I believe in myself that I can do it.”
-Jennifer Lopez Fuentes, 13. BAC returning participant and student at Raymond Education Campus.
Calvin Jackson in July 2011 at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park with a park ranger.
By Calvin Jackson
Growing up in Columbia Heights in the '90s and then the 2000s, there just were not too many resources available for youth. Beginning in eighth grade when I was 13, the LAYC Art + Media House (AMH) became a second home for me. It was located right by my high school, Capital City Public Charter School. Every day after school I went to an AMH program.
One of the first things I did was spoken word. Being in that house working on that craft expanded my view of the world immensely. To write, you have to be knowledgeable of the world and be able to look at yourself outside of your comfort zone. Not only did AMH introduce me to poetry writing, photography, painting, graphic design, and radio, but through these mediums I became aware of a lot of situations in our world. At the tender age of 14, I knew that the people in my community were at a severe disadvantage because of racial, economic, and social barriers that inhibit the progress of people of color. I introduced AMH to a lot of my own friends and family who began to participate. I knew at 15 that my calling in life was to give back to the community that I grew up in and to give back to the community that had served me for almost 10 years.
This summer, I return to LAYC and AMH, whose programming now runs out of LAYC's Teen Center, as a National Park Service (NPS) representative with LAYC's 2nd Nature summer program, a partnership with NPS. It combines all of my fields of work, which are communications, educations and cinematography; all fields I have a flame for. They say if you do something you love, you never have to work a day in your life. Coming to work in the morning is just me going to visit my second home at LAYC.
Youth in my community need places like LAYC to learn what they don't teach in school, stay out of trouble, and explore the world. Instead of hanging in front of the Metro, I hosted a radio show about the 2008 presidential race. Instead of doing drugs in an alley on 14th Street, I camped in Catoctin Mountain Park building social skills with other youth. Instead of wilting my life away, I gained intellectual, social, and artistic capital that pushed me through high school and paved the way for my enrollment and finally my commencement from Georgetown University.
Calvin was a participant of LAYC's Art + Media House, now part of LAYC's Teen Center programming, for nearly a decade. This summer, he returns as camp staff for the 2nd Nature summer program, a partnership with the National Park Service of the National Capitol Region. The program develops young peoples' creative skills in art and media while introducing them to environmental issues and resources through visits to National Parks. The final public installation and performance will be on August 6, 2015, at LAYC. Calvin received a Bachelor of Arts from Georgetown University in May 2015.
Video of 2nd Nature summer program 2010, including a poetry reading by Calvin.
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.