We always find that there are endless opportunities to meet new people, discover new partnerships, and make new friends. Our urban setting allows the youth to easily interact with others from different backgrounds and develop mutual understanding. The other day we had a recreational outing at Roger Williams Park and unintentionally made acquaintances with lots of other teens in the neighborhood. They loved the sense of camaraderie our group had and wanted to meet up again. It was a reminder to us just how plentiful the opportunities are for building relationships in Providence, with so many unreached teens and families all around us. The more the Youth Collabortive can expand, the bigger impact we hope to have in the city!
We'll be at the annual Hope Street Block Party this Saturday! We've been able to sell some of our shirts and cards through online orders, so this will be the first time the Youth Collab will be making our merchandise available on site. The teens have been gearing up for this event with lots of work on our various craft items. So come out if you can and stay tuned for more summer venues!
With the first year of the Youth Collaborative wrapping up, it's amazing to look back and see all the transitions and ups & downs that happened in the span of just 12 months. As our group grew and our needs adjusted, we had to change meeting locations a few times. With this lack of consistency, our volunteer core changed a couple times in the early going, but many many thanks to our committed staff who stayed flexible and dedicated to being an active part of our teenagers' lives. In terms of support, the Collaborative was able to operate smoothly thanks to contributions from friends and fans who gave financially to the various business ventures that the teens embarked on this year! From selling homemade donuts, to organizing a very popular sidewalk sale, to designing t-shirts and mugs, the creative energy that our team utilized to get all these projects off the ground was quite impressive.
Heading into the new year, two key themes that come to mind are stability and expansion. We hope, through even more fruitful partnerships than before, that we can impact the lives of more teenagers for success today. Our strategies for this growth include increasing our capacity for mentorship, while seeking out more venues where the teens can grow their various businesses. Providence is home to so many beautifully diverse families with cultures from all around the world, and we pray to God that the Youth Collaborative can have some small part to play in the flourishing of these families.
This fall, the Youth Collaborative has partnered with the Davey Lopes Recreation Center, located in the Upper Southside neighborhood of Providence. We knew this partnership was the best way that we could more intentionally serve the teens and families who are most deeply affected by the everyday issues of the inner city. In addition to the outdoor facilities that provide a safe haven for urban youth, Davey Lopes also provides coaching and free boxing lessons to help transition these teenagers to mature manhood. The Davey Lopes staff have been very gracious and accommodating.
This past weekend during one of our youth discussion groups, we were reminded of the harsh realities for those who are stuck within the systems of urban decay. The 13th homicide in Providence this year occurred just the day before, and the victim was a well known resident of the Southside who lived directly across the street from the rec center. As the center has become a trusted gathering place and social hub for the local neighbors, many friends and family members of the victim congregated together to console and counsel one another. Some of the grieving were in deep frustration and in no mood to talk to strangers that day. It was another reminder to us of how vast the chasm is between those who are trapped by the streets, and the rest of us.
For the past few weeks we've been building up the relationships among the teens through all sorts of recreational activities. Since the youth have a lot of free time, we've been taking them out more regularly, whether that's skateboarding in the park, trying froyo for the first time, or doing street photography. One of the teen's parents, a single mom who holds three jobs, was so relieved to know that her teen would have ample opportunity to spend time with his peers in a mentoring environment, rather than be stuck indoors all day this summer.
In these more social settings, our strategy is to mentor through teachable moments, as the youth open up about all sorts of details of their lives, whether it's the music they listen to, issues at home, or the people they want to date. We earn their trust by living life with them on a regular basis.
This past week for our group discussion, we took a break from our usual entrepreneurial training to talk about the events in Charleston and, more generally, what it means for the Youth Collaborative to strive to become a multicultural community. It was the most serious conversation we've had thus far in our weekly gatherings, and revealed many surprising things about our teens' perspectives on race. Most surprising of all was the fact that among our attendance of almost a dozen teenagers, none of them had heard about the attack on the church. Just as the lack of initial media coverage showed an unwillingness to confront this tragedy, that same sense of unwillingness has seemed to trickle down into social media circles and even school administrations. One of our adult leaders, himself a public teacher teacher, hypothesized that perhaps the schools would rather avoid addressing the touchy subject of shootings, than to use it as an opportunity to grow our youth's understanding of their place in civic responsibility.
We talked about how racism is contextual, and how depending on the situation the majority might feel like the minority, and vice-versa. We opened up about our past experiences with prejudice. We learned the way that most urban youth see racism in their daily lives is in how their peer groups joke and use humor, so we discussed boundaries and the essential need for empathy. Without empathy we fall into the trap of self-defensiveness, into the trap of preferencing our own sense of satisfaction over another person's God-given humanity.
These were topics that the teens never really explored before, but they did a great job processing everything.
The teens, supervised by a couple of our adult mentors, worked hard at our sidewalk sale this past weekend. This was a great opportunity for them to learn how to speak with customers, prioritize tasks, and develop discipline. There was a good balance of work and play as teens who normally wouldn't get along in a classroom context had a chance to get to know and appreciate each other.
The sidewalk sale was mutually beneficial for both us and for the neighbors who came to peruse our goods, as we offered great deals on good quality items. We also put out a "Freebies" table for anyone who needed a little more help. In addition to the used goods we also sold our hand-crafted kettle corn and youth artwork--the kitty t-shirts we printed were very well received.
In the end our young entrepreneurs raised more than we had anticipated, and we look forward to voting with the teens what will be the best ways to use our profits. Of course we'll re-invest most of it into our upcoming business projects, but with a job well done we think a fun community outing should be in the works soon!