By See Vang, AACA youth leadership coordinator
Youth-focused programs often tout “youth empowerment,” the notion that these programs exist to help youth realize their own voices and their potential to effect positive changes in their communities. I am by no means suggesting these programs are not needed, as youth voices have historically been excluded from major decisions that oftentimes directly affect them. What I am criticizing is the one-way street assumption that inspiration, empowerment, impact, engagement and learning travel from the experienced adult to the developing minds of youth.
Many questions plagued me as a young professional starting my first “real” job as the youth leadership coordinator at the Asian American Civic Association. Would I be an effective coordinator? Would I be able to empower them? Would I be able to guide them to see the value of the communities that make up their identities, and the reasons for becoming embedded in the well-being of these communities? What if I don’t know enough? What if they don’t like me?
Since then, the Youth Council members have impacted me in so many ways. I become more confident every time they show up for meetings and events, every time they complete something I ask of them and every time they communicate their plans with me. I feel giddy every time they “Like” my posts on Facebook, and felt really honored when one of the members asked me to write a college letter of recommendation on her behalf! Even when I know they are feisty and will bolt as soon as I say “OK you’re free to go!” I am inspired to work harder to grab their attention and engage them at the next meeting.
I don’t think they are aware of how much they inspire me. I am amazed at their dedication and commitment to community service. Being dedicated means they had to intellectually engage in identifying the community, how they are impacted by the community, their role in that community and how their role can impact their communities. These are all things that I only started to do when I was in college.
I have learned an immense amount from the Youth Council members in the short three months that I have been here, and know that they will teach me more before my service year is up in July. I am proud to say that I work with a group of highly motivated youth that care about and are engaged in their communities, and I can only hope and work towards making these feelings and opportunities for learning mutual.
This post is also available in: Chinese