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The Oklahoman printed the Youth LEAD story on April 30, 2013! We are overjoyed at the outcome of our first training and cannot wait to see where we go from here! The "Blue Sky" is the limit!!
YMCA, Local Partners to Launch Youth LEAD Diversity Program
“Youth LEAD brings a unique cultural competency program to our community. This youth led initiative empowers teens to communicate effectively about diverse and often difficult topics. The teens use their skills to discuss highly charged issues and foster friendships across differences as they implement service learning projects”, said Shannon Presti, Director of Teen Leadership Initiatives for the YMCA OF GREATER OKLAHOMA CITY.
Youth LEAD Associate Director, Tabitha May-Tolum will train about 25 adult advisors and a diverse group of area high school students to reflect upon their values and beliefs, connect with others across differences and act together to address local and global change during a weekend retreat April 19-21st at Casady School. Moving forward, Youth LEAD communities will use the skills they are taught in the program to inspire and mobilize youth leaders to transform fear, mistrust and polarization into social cohesion and collaborative problem-solving.
The nonprofit organization, established in 2004, has seen much success, according to Youth LEAD Executive Director Janet Penn, including being featured as one of two promising U.S. youth practices in a major study by Harvard’s Pluralism Project. The study documents the growth of interfaith initiatives across the country and considers the implications of America’s multi-religious reality for citizenship and leadership today and in the future.
“The Pluralism Project recognized Youth LEAD because of its authentic, youth-leadership model (rather than just talking, they actually plan and facilitate complex events) and their multi-year trainings that give teens critical 21st century skills,” Penn said. “Unlike many programs or peace camps that bring youth together for one encounter, Youth LEADers spend several years together, running their own meetings and community service projects.”
The launch of Youth LEAD in Oklahoma City will be the first step in making it a national program. There is no cost for students or schools to participate in Youth LEAD. Students must commit to monthly meetings and a few weekend trainings per year. For more information on Youth LEAD, contact the Y’s Director of Teen Leadership Initiatives, Shannon Presti at 405 297 7728 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 19-21: Youth LEAD OKC Trainings @ Wing by Youth LEAD Online Associate Director Tabitha May-Tolub
Tabitha May-Tolub is the Associate Director of Youth LEAD - Youth Leaders Engaging Across Differences. Youth LEAD, which is based near Boston Massachusetts, inspires and mobilizes youth leaders to reflect upon their values and beliefs, connect with others across differences and act together to address local and global challenges.
Tabitha holds degrees in Psychology and Education from Clark University and has been in the field of Youth Development for nearly 20 years. She has received training in the areas of peer mediation, leadership development, facilitation, dialogue facilitation, anti-bias and primary prevention education.
Over the last ten years she has worked in public schools, community-based programs and non-profit organizations specializing in youth leadership development at the middle and high school levels.
Her goal is to help create a new generation of leaders with strong character and exceptional communication skills by empowering youth to strengthen their character and effect change in their communities.
She is here in Oklahoma this weekend to help kick start Youth LEAD OKC in Partnership with the Cassidy School and The YMCA of Oklahoma City. She would like to share a little bit more about her organization and their thoughts on service with you today.
Hello, Thank you all for giving me a few minutes of your time today. I am thrilled to be here in Oklahoma City for the first time. There is truly nothing I love more than a chance to explore a new part of the world and I hope to be back many times after this to watch Youth LEAD OKC grow.
So a little history . . . Youth LEAD (Youth Leaders engaging across differences) started about 12 years ago as Interfaith Action. An important organization, called ADL (Anti-Defamation League) wondered (all great things start with wonder) what would it be like to do interfaith work in a small very diverse suburb. Sharon, MA (where Youth LEAD is based) has nine churches, seven synagogues, houses the Islamic Center of New England, more than 160 Hindu families, as well as a growing number of scientologists, Bahia, Jain, Buddhist, Christian Science families and more.). It is an extraordinarily diverse population for a suburb.
The adults in charge of this experiment quickly learned that the best way to try something new, and have it be successful, is by pairing the experience of those over 18 with the energy, enthusiasm and passion of those under 18. So that’s how we got started.
Two years ago we changed our name to Youth LEAD. It became clear that our program could be used to open up discussion around all forms of identity – not just faith. We also began supporting amazing youth and adults around the country to do this work. We are connected to programs in Staten Island NY, Orange County California, Jordan , urban and rural MA and now OKC. Which is just so cool!
Why does it work? . . . This weekend kicks off the National Volunteer Week and Global Youth Service Days. Such an important week! You may have noticed that those of us over the age of 18 still have not quite managed to fix the many challenges that our planet faces. In fact some might say . . . we have done a little more damage than good. As part of National Volunteer Week, I advocate for service of any kind that is filled with heart and hard work. We have so many bodies on this planet and so much to do that in some ways I say – “Just do it”. Just get out there and get started and make the world a better place.
However – there are some problems that we just can’t seem to fix, no matter how hard we work. Those issues always seem to stem from the things that are most important to us, the pieces of our identity: race, religion, ethnicity, gender, ability and sexual orientation. When it comes to the pieces of our world that are connected to our identity, our fears, our mistrusts and the ways in which we are polarized get in the way. Elbow grease just is not enough. We need to find a different way to serve.
This is precisely how Youth LEAD hopes to help. For us Service has three equally important parts.
The first is Reflection. Who are we? what do we believe? what baggage and what narratives do we bring with us from our lives and the lives of our families? How do these pieces of our identity form us and inform us? This part is really important because unless we know who we are, where we come from and how that supports and challenges the work we do in the world, it is hard for us to move on from here.
The second part is connection. We need the skills to be able to connect with others who hold very different beliefs than us. Whose stories and experiences give us a very different perspective on the world? If we only surround ourselves with people who look like us, think like us and operate like us we never see the whole picture. We are always missing pieces that are essential as we try to repair the world.
The third is Action. While the first two parts are critical, until all our reflecting and connecting translates into action – it will never get us where we need to go. This Action however needs to be intentional. We need to ask deep questions about what is and is not working and think creatively about why and how to fix it. WE need to take all the information learned in parts one and two and draft it into organized, intentional work. Projects that have a clear vision, committee work that honors product and process, meetings that are focused and where all voices are heard and allowed.
It is our belief that if all three of these parts are in place, our service takes on a whole new level of excellence and we can begin to repair the way we communicate with each other and the way we serve the world.
How do we begin to do this? What skills do we need? We have developed what we call Foundation skills. The great thing about these skills is we have seen over and over how using them can transform our relationships and our community. The bad news, they are super hard to put into practice in our daily lives. Those of us who hold them in the fore front of our minds – still struggle. But like any other skill: riding a bike, hitting a baseball, doing a cartwheel, they can be practiced and we can get better.
We have 10 foundation skills. And I would love to share them all with you today but due to time – you’ll have to join Youth LEAD OKC for that. I asked the youth in Sharon which four are most important to start with. That by the way is the secret to my success. If I don’t know the answer, I ask someone under the age of 18. They gave me these.
1. Be curious: Seek out people who are different from you and who think differently than you do. Find out their stories. Be the person who reaches out to the people that no one else does and listens to their stories.
2. Be courageous – have the conversation: When difficulty, uncertainty, and misunderstandings happen, don’t walk away but engage in conversation. Especially when it is hard and uncomfortable, participate in the conversation. Have the conversation with the person whom you should – not with everyone else. Be the person who uses open communication over back talking, complaining and gossip.
3. Practice deep listening: Listen and seek understanding. Give people a chance to finish talking before you respond and give yourself a chance to finish listening before you respond. Enjoy and soak in people’s words, even when they make you uncomfortable or when you disagree. Be the person who listens, who really hears others.
4. Value discomfort: Seek out discomfort. This is the one I am working on right now – because I really don’t like public speaking but we know that being uncomfortable is a clear sign that you and others around you are growing. Be the person who can move through the discomfort to the other side.
Now, Don’t take my word for it. Try it and see if you get a different response. Try it and see if you begin to see the world in a different way. Try it and see if you are able to begin to work with others who were previously very difficult to work with.
As I said in the beginning . . . all great things begin with wonder. I wonder what the world would be like if people began to ask different kinds of questions. I wonder what the world would be like if we did more listening and less debating. I wonder what the world would be like if we replaced judgment with curiosity. I wonder what you all will do to change the world for the better.
Thank you for your time. I hope I get the chance to talk more with some of you while I am on campus. Make it a great day!
April 19: Youth LEAD Mentors Module Training: Aim to be a consultant not a leader. Deep listening, empowering questioning
April 20: Youth LEAD Teen Communication Module Training
Who are we? what do we believe? what baggage and what narratives do we bring with us from our lives and the lives of our families? How do these pieces of our identity form us and inform us?
We need the skills to be able to connect with others who hold very different beliefs than us. Whose stories and experiences give us a very different perspective on the world?
The tragedy of humanity, does not lie in its misconception, but rather in the lost courses, the screw ups” and the lonely. Born from love, hate is learned. What you find when you visit the attic of your mind scares you. We fake our smiles to hide the fragility of our past. People do NOT change overnight. Do not despair; try not to focus on your failures. We are not meant to go through life, we are meant to GROW through life. To make a lasting impression one must affect and inspire the coming generation. The only way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them entirely. I believe that the first step is to give everyone the right to a good and ample education. Shouldn’t everyone be given opportunity to better progress their lives. Since every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Do not pray for less rain, but rather pray for a better umbrella. Ananya, Casady 8th Grader
April 21: Youth LEAD Teen Project Management Module Training Begin with a goal(essential question) that motivates everyone. Develop objectives (focus questions)
Develop connected, reflected activities for the objectives. Value the process even more than the product. Embrace failure and discomfort. Practice deep listening and clarifying questions. Set workable meetings with well defined agendas (goal, objectives, and activities.) Check your progress at implementing the core principles in the process to making your goals a reality.
Take what you need, absorb it and use it to
become a better facilitator and person.
Take what you don’t need and leave it by the side
of the road, don’t carry it with you.