Be the change you wish to see in the world. –Mahatma Gandhi
This is one of my favorite quotes of all time. It doesn’t surprise me, as I love to see MYTHIRDPLACE’s mantra, ”Create what you wish existed” continue to thrive through two of our teens, Anita and Oswaldo, who are part of the first ever ‘Mayor’s Youth Council’ here in Azusa. The council, the first of its kind in the city, currently platforms seven of Azusa’s teens to share their thoughts, develop leadership skills, speak into policy, and become change agents in their community.
I was privileged to sit in last month and see these teens in action as MYTHIRDPLACE hosted December’s meeting. Despite it being a cold day out, teens ranging from 9th-12th grade gathered and indulged in the supplied donuts and hot chocolate to keep warm. They engaged in lively conversations about their own personal hopes and the present state of their city. Mayor Rocha made an appearance, bringing with him holiday chocolate for all to enjoy. He started off the meeting inviting them to join him in participating in local city events during the holiday seasons and sharing a few thoughts for the next meeting that will take place in a month.
The meeting later dove into an icebreaker where each teen shared his/her greatest achievement of 2015 and an attainable goal to achieve for 2016. In that moment I sense a deep-seated appreciation for the group’s great levels of trust and vulnerability. One of the teens shared his achievement of improving his overall GPA. Others shared other achievements such as “becoming more social” and developing the “ability to do more things on my own.” For goals to achieve in 2016, one teen wanted to “not just [say] things but [do] things” and another said “I’d like to be more involved in the city.” Great personal goals as these teens are striving to become better individuals and leaders in our community. Around this time, I thought to myself, “What a great group to be a part of; there is no place better to feel encouraged and attain these personal goals.”
After each person shared their achievements and goals, the month’s guest speaker, Lanette Baumann, Azusa High School’s College & Career Center Technician, was introduced and given the floor. She spent several minutes talking with the teens, providing them with information pertinent to their futures regarding college and their prospective careers. The teens were, again, surprisingly vulnerable. Some shared fears of failing to meet requirements to get into college, while others feared not being accepted to their school of choice or not “fitting in” in college. Ms. Baumann was able to calm their fears and share valuable information, blowing them away by the concept that college is not merely training for a job, but also a place to develop skills and grow their networks.
The rest of the meeting was led by our very own Adrian Greer, as he challenged the group to consider various forms of community development. Over the course of this year, the teens will be assessing the current state of the community and hosting a community engagement project in response to their findings. As is common within community development, it was much easier for the teens to recognize needs and weaknesses within the city, and attempt to coordinate efforts to “fix” them. Adrian shared with them that this form of “Needs Based Community Development'”(NBCD) isn’t the most effective way to bring about transformation in the long run. The most effective means of transformation, he suggested, comes by first recognizing what resources and strengths exist in the community and seeking to connect and enhance what good things are already happening. Instead of reinventing the wheel, find those that are already committed to various causes within the community and consider ways to complement and/or supplement them. This method is known as “Asset Based Community Development” (ABCD).
After supporting ABCD through video and firsthand examples, Adrian led the group in a brainstorming session around the topic, “What are some of Azusa’s greatest assets?” I could see their eyes filled with excitement as they enthusiastically exchanged thoughts on all that Azusa has to offer. Oswaldo took charge, writing on the whiteboard their ideas as teens thought out loud.One teen asked, “How about Golden Days?” while another questioned, “What about Azusa’s rich culture?” The whiteboard was soon filled with names of leaders, programs, organizations, churches, businesses, and more that contribute to the vibrant Azusa community. Their excitement then turned into action as they were each assigned the task of making connections and gathering information on the various listings from the board and reporting back in at the next month’s meeting, which happens to take place tomorrow evening, January 11.
At the end of the meeting, I began to reflect on how the city of Azusa will be blessed by these seven teens who make up the Mayor’s Youth Council. It was clear to me that their zeal and motivation to share ideas and encourage one another as they develop leadership skills will impact the city of Azusa for the better. What’s more, I’m proud and personally grateful that these teens, especially Anita and Oswaldo, have the opportunity to give back to the city they love and create what they wish existed.