Graduations Mark New Beginnings

Positive Leadership & Youth Development

In recent months, the John Rex Endowment was privileged to attend graduation ceremonies for participants from Planned Parenthood's Teens Taking Action, El Pueblo's Líderes de Salud and Wake County 4-H Extension's PODER. These local groups have a lot to celebrate!

It's easy to think of a graduation as a celebration of completion. However, these graduation ceremonies celebrate the more important aspect of accomplishments that have prepared a person for the commencement of a new stage of learning and development in life.

"Their work commands applause, and we proudly spotlight them together because their stories speak volumes in regard to the importance of positive leadership, youth development, health promotion and community advocacy," said McAllister Myhra, director of operations for the John Rex Endowment. "The synergies in approach and benefits of positive leadership and youth development are illustrated in these evolving programs."

Teens Taking Action, Planned Parenthood

Teens Taking Action

Teens Taking Action, a peer-oriented health education program, incorporates a layered approach to helping youth learn to think critically, speak publicly, take responsibility for their own actions and advocate for health issues that are important to them. Eight graduates from this year's program add to the far-reaching health advocacy impact of this grant-funded program which is entering its third year.

The teens involved in the program take health advocacy very seriously. They learn how to deliver important health messages and incorporate their own personality into teaching others. Last year's class received more than 60 hours of training on approximately 12 different peer health education topics during the first part of the program.

The second half of the program focuses on outreach. Some teens are more comfortable with one-on-one peer communication, while others thrive at teaching to larger audiences. Both are encouraged. They learn to facilitate presentations and utilize learning-based activities.

Shannon Heintz, program coordinator, estimates the recent graduate class has been directly involved in delivering health messages to over 650 youth and adults and has participated in approximately 15 advocacy and outreach events and two summer camps with over 20 sessions.

Behavior changes within the group are readily apparent to Heintz. "Through trainings, they learn to make decisions for themselves based on knowledge instead of fear," said Heintz. "I've watched teens develop amazing work ethics by participating in the program." One recent graduate has become so independent that she's attained a job as a counselor and was selected to join two other teens, from previous training cohorts, at a Congressional Roundtable in Washington D.C.

Líderes de Salud, El Pueblo

Líderes de SaludLíderes de Salud has trained 140 recent immigrants to become Promotores (lay health advisors) in their community. They learn about health topics, including obesity, diabetes, asthma, immunizations, and dental health through an initial 8-week program offered at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Fuquay-Varina and Urban Ministries' Open Door Clinic.

Following the first phase of training, the Promotores begin offering both peer outreach and other community trainings. Additionally, they continue attending monthly meetings to review topics of interest, gain new contacts and problem solve together. Site liaisons from graduating classes are selected to provide trainings for subsequent groups. The "train the trainer" mentality is very alive with this program, and the reach is almost immeasurable with as many as 40 remaining actively involved in the monthly sessions while an estimated 80 continue to work with their communities. "Many Promotores have very organized trainings in existing social settings, while others are very comfortable reaching out one-on-one with neighbors and peers," said Florence Simán, director of health programs.

The Líderes de Salud program has evolved over the past five years with adapted trainings to meet the changing community needs and interests of participants. The Promotores get to add their own flavor to the trainings, and that is what keeps it unique. "Right now, they're preparing for Fiesta del Pueblo where they've decided to offer classroom-style trainings for the public," said Simán.

In July, the group met other Promotores at a conference designed to help them build a network with others across the state. They all share the common interest of improving the quality of life. "They're building a network through their own interest in improving the quality of life for others," said Simán. "That's so important."

Líderes de Salud is just the beginning for many. They are proud of what they've learned, and the opportunity has given many participants the ability to believe in the continuum of learning and become catalysts in their community. They've learned to help themselves through helping others.

PODER, Wake County 4-H Extension

Wake County 4-H Extension

PODER (Positive Outcomes Delivered through Entrepreneurial Resiliency) enables Latino teenage boys, ages 13 to 19, to develop skills and learn to create alternate life paths. With a desire to prevent gang participation for youth who are already involved or on the peripheral of gang activity, Wake County 4-H Extension researched program options. The organization determined that an entrepreneurial approach to learning would be well received by male Latino youth and could provide skills that are not necessarily acquired through school. By introducing new vocations, setting expectations, involving parents and providing mentoring support, the program has enabled six teens to graduate from the first year and set their sights on making the most of their future.

PODER incorporates a business approach from the onset with an application and interview process followed by a contractual agreement, which outlines expectations and consequences including things such as a nonviolence and attendance requirements. The focus is on creativity, risk-taking, responsibility and a willingness to learn. Activities include community outings matched with entrepreneurial interests.

At the very core of PODER, there is the building of capacity and use of assets. "Teens who previously weren't thriving in school completed our program and presented phenomenal business plans which are saturated with language arts and mathematics." said Gina Garcia-somuk, community youth development director for Wake County 4-H. "We also learned quite a bit from the teens and now have many other ideas for shaping this program in future years as well as developing new approaches for other target groups."

To improve the likelihood of success for participants, PODER provides opportunities for the entire family and expects a commitment from parents to attend sessions. Through fellowship, all the families learn to share experiences and resources. By arming parents with more information to help themselves, the teens are able to focus more on their personal interests and growth. The program is purposely structured as a small group with one adult leader per seven teens. This allows the teens to work closely with the project leader and build a mutually respectful relationship.

"They impressed me every day," said Joany Rosales, program coordinator. "On the day of business plan presentations, we had a young man who walked through the pouring rain to catch his ride and arrived completely soaked! He was determined, and his peers pitched in to get him dry for his presentation. They learned to see their commitments through and to help one another along the way."

PODER's recent graduates received funds to invest in their business plans. Each graduate also received a refurbished laptop to use in the next cycle of the program, which will involve further developing their business plans as well as assisting with teaching the next group. For PODER, graduation means moving on to the next stage of life-long learning.