Three Holy Cross Students Help Launch a Youth Leadership Program in Worcester
Published: Sunday, November 3, 2013
Updated: Sunday, November 3, 2013 19:11
Starting on October 17, the South Worcester Neighborhood Center (SWNIC) is offering its first Youth Leadership Program for Worcester teenagers from ages of 14 to 19 for six weeks.
The program is a six-week academy with the goal of educating the Worcester youth on how to be leaders in the community. The sessions will be held at the Autumn Woods apartments by Upland Drive.
Yarlennys Villaman ’14, a Spanish major and Latin American studies concentrator at the College of the Holy Cross, has been working with SWNIC since her community work-study term started during her sophomore year and has served as a leader organizer of the first-time leadership program.
During the six-week span, she will be presenting a PowerPoint presentation on how the participants can become community organizers, will be one of the leaders for an activity as well, and will be giving a ‘Who am I’ speech to empower the youth through her own personal narrative experience as an emerging leader.
After Villaman’s supervisor contacted her to create a project for the youth, she along with Erick Diaz ‘14 and Paula Vianca Cunanan ’14 proposed a leadership program targeted toward high school students.
Diaz and Cunanan were involved with SWNIC as camp counselors for the free summer programs that the non-profit organization offers.
Rob Jones, Associate Director and Coordinator of the Multicultural Peer Education (MPE) program at Holy Cross, was the featured speaker at the first session on October 24 at Autumn Woods. He and the Office of Multicultural Center donated school supplies for the students.
Jones spoke to the students about servant leadership and how everyone has the potential to be a servant leader. He defined a servant leader as someone who will actually be doing the work and teaching others how to do what they know.
Most people consider leadership to be ‘position leadership’ like serving as president, secretary, or some other title, but those positions are limited and certainly not the only form of true leadership.
He has been working with the Autumn Woods development for fifteen years, so he knows some of the students’ older brother and sisters. He knows their families and is not a stranger to their experiences.
Jones explained, “There are a lot of African immigrants living in that area, so I want to encourage them to realize their leadership potential. Everyone has potential, but not everyone taps that potential. It is something I believe that everyone should get his or her hearts around. I always say, ‘Never underestimate your power to aspire someone else.’ The best way to do this is by example.”
Dean Jacqueline Peterson will also a presenter on November 14 at the College. “In that certain community,” explained Villaman, “The crime and violence rates are very high and our main focus is to create an issue and work on that to find a solution for them. After they complete the program, we are going to work with city councils and other organizations on trying to solve the issue and giving them a role in the community so they can be leaders.”
Villaman said that she remembers how crucial participating in youth leadership programs was for her growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts and she is confident that this new program will do the same for Worcester teenagers.
She shared, “I have this motto that ‘In the end of a dark tunnel, there is a light and that light is hope’ and we want to show this group of kids that even in the rough neighborhood they are growing up, they can be leaders and be that change.”
Villaman is also working this year to launch a Holy Cross Camp Day for the upcoming summer where the College’s athletes can spend the day playing with high school students with the hope of teaching the teenagers the true value of education.
As an impending graduating senior, Villaman wants to continue her work in the non-profit sector.
“Every change is possible when you have a group of motivator who are passionate about change,” said Villaman. “SWNIC has been that eye of change that brightens my passion to empower the youth and help society. For that reason, I want to continue being that change by working for a non-profit organization.”