By Felicia Hernández
In early April, I participated in (with some of the youth I work with) Safe Yakima Valley's Graffiti Be Gone community clean-up event. Over 300 community members came out for the event and gathered at Albertson’s on 16th & Lincoln Avenue. Separated into teams, we marched into Northeast Yakima while picking up trash and painting over taggings. To witness the diversity (age, ethnicity, gender, class, religion) of the community members working together for a common goal was so inspiring! There was a sense of goodwill and accomplishment shared by all.
Of all the glory of the Graffiti Be Gone event (including a great turn out of volunteers, free donuts and Starbucks!), one thing stood out to me the most: the amount of parents who brought their children along to engage in this service project. That is a powerful message being sent to children, to parents, and to the community. What a great way to teach a child to value community, hard work, compassion, understanding and themselves. Service-work gives youth purpose, a voice and a stronger sense of community, so I want to give a standing ovation to all the parents who involve their children in events like Graffiti Be Gone.
This event was a great program, but I want us to think even bigger. Do Something.org reports that 93% of adolescents say they want to volunteer, but a small percentage of those youth actually make it to a service-project. There is an estimated 80,000 young folks, ages (0- 24) that live in Yakima County. This is an army of young people out there who are looking to have their voices heard and make a difference in their community. As adults in our community, can we find new ways to work with youth to facilitate, not dictate, the projects? Sometimes, what adults think is a really big deal… is not such a big deal after all. For example, while picking up trash on Saturday, my arm was literally crawling with a colony of ants. I screamed, screamed, ran, and screamed, shaking my arm vigorously-- I was freaking out. I look at one of the youth I was with and she looks back at me, and says “chill Felicia… they are just ants.” She was so right. If we can provide the space for young people to get involved and speak their voice, I think we might find that most of them, in fact, are right.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others? --Martin Luther King, Jr.