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Youth Speakers Share Their Hopes for the Future

I know now it's not where I'm from; it's where I'm going. It's not what I drive; it's what drives me. It's not what's on me; it's what's in me. And it's not what I think; it's what I know. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. And that's exactly what I plan to do: I will make my own trail and set my own goals. — Chardae Anderson, age 18

October 14, 2009

ROCKVILLE, MD -- Seven youth speakers at the recent Innovative Collaborations to Promote Positive Youth Outcomes: A Federal, State, and Local Dialogue conference shared their experiences as youth at risk – as well as how they were able to get their lives on track. For these seven youth, the keys to successful outcomes included strong programs with high expectations; the ability to develop and showcase talents; and long-term relationships with caring adults.

Freestate Challenge Academy, a Department of Defense/National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, enabled Caressa Gibson to evolve from "a world of barely coming to school and partying" to a new trajectory: "a second chance at life." At the academy, Caressa learned that she was being challenged by adults who cared about her, and decided to fully participate in the program – joining chess club, drill team, and student council. She enlisted in the Air Force National Guard after graduating in 2005, and now helps process new candidates for Freestate. "I may have graduated from the academy," Caressa notes, "but I always have my mentors, cadre, counselors, and the best case manager to help me through any of life's obstacles, and I will do all that I can to give back to the academy to show my appreciation."

Marlon Norman's involvement with a grantee of the Department of Labor's Youth Build program has resulted in a GED and National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certifications. Through the program, Marlon enrolled in after school photography classes. "I was always really excited to assist the instructor with installing shows, helping with students, assisting in the darkroom, and learning as much as I could about photography," Marlon says. Marlon learned the skills needed to secure an internship, which led to a full time position as an assistant lab technician at a local print lab. He's had his photography displayed in a group show in Paris and the Honfleur Gallery in Washington, DC. "The fact that your work is displayed, and that people actually come to view your work is truly an experience I won't forget," Marlon shares.

For Chardae Anderson, her mentor through the Department of Health and Human Services' Mentoring Children of Prisoners Program is "someone you can talk to, confide in and depend on. She is a person who came into my life ready to get to know me and show me that someone else besides my family is rooting for me to succeed in life." Children whose parents have been incarcerated face a number of challenges – including the risk of emotional withdrawal, failure in school, delinquency and intergenerational incarceration. But Chardae notes, "I will not feel anger, depression or guilt. I will not follow my father's steps but choose a different route and succeed." Chardae is now in her second year in college.

Other youth speakers at the conference were Zach Brooks, AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps; Jason Westerheide, National Organizations for Youth Safety; Christopher Guest, Job Corps alumni; and Tricia Gurley, Youth M.O.V.E. Maryland coordinator.

The Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs convened this conference to enable adults and youth at the federal, state, and local levels to dialogue about what works for youth and how federal programming plays a role in developing successful outcomes for youth. The Working Group plans to continue to dialogue with these youth and their peers on these topics in the coming year.

For more information about the youth programs mentioned in this article, check out the links below:

Job Corps

Youth Build

AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps

Youth M.O.V.E.

National Organizations for Youth Safety

Mentoring Children of Prisoners

National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program

If you would like to learn more about involving youth voices in your programs and see videos of the youth speaking about their experiences, check out our series of articles on positive youth development. For more information on programs targeted specifically at youth transitioning to adulthood visit our series of articles on transition age youth.