Between targeted acts of violence, harassment, and discrimination uncovered at all levels of government and business, and injustice across all issue areas, it is easy to become jaded and feel hopeless at the state of our country and the world. Although we should not accept injustice, we can find many reasons to feel hopeful about the future, and even the present. One of those reasons, for me, is the work of my partner organization, Fiver Children’s Foundation.
Throughout my time at Fiver Children’s Foundation as a Program Outreach fellow, I’ve worked in collaboration with the programs team to develop updated outreach and database procedures. The Fiver Program Supervisors create and facilitate curriculum for the hundreds of Fiver youth, while also planning family events and conducting outreach. Outreach is critical to ensuring Fiver staff can most effectively reach Fiver participants and families and inform them of upcoming programs and opportunities. As a result, much of my time has been spent with databases, outreach softwares, and surveys. However, I’ve had some opportunities to sit in on Fiver’s Core programs and witness the Fiver mission in action.
Through Fiver’s Core programs, participants – known as “Fivers” – follow three pathways to success throughout their 10 years with Fiver. The Leadership and Service, Healthy Life Choices, and Education and Career Pathways aim to achieve three long-term program objectives:
Fivers possess 21st century skills to succeed in school and careers
Fivers are engaged citizens
Fivers make healthy and ethical life choices
Fiver participants engage critically and thoughtfully with Core programs – with topics ranging from homework time management, maintaining healthy stress, and how to handle peer pressure, to leadership qualities, representation and bias in media, and advocating for change. Fivers ask questions and listen to their peers’ opinions, and give back to the Fiver community as volunteers. One of my most salient memories is when I listened to the Fivers discuss their experiences at camp and how they noticed positive changes within themselves, citing an increase in confidence, knowing that they had a support system, and more comfort with public speaking and sharing their ideas.
We often say that youth are “the future.” Our youth will soon grow up to be policy-makers, leaders in business, society, and of their communities. They will become voters and consumers. However, this phrase can be minimizing of the real impact youth make everyday, before “the future.” In fact, youth are the right now – they are the present. That is why Fiver’s work is especially critical; providing positive and healthy spaces for youth to learn and question the world is important to youth development. Moreover, youth are not ignorant to the social issues around them. They may be members of communities facing injustices, learn about the issues in school, see manifestations of such issues on their commute to school, and overall, are compassionate and engaged.
In the wake of hate violence in Pittsburgh, Fiver posted a statement to Instagram denouncing the tragedy and all other discrimination. The post read, “Our Fivers embrace individuality and celebrate diversity. They are future leaders who work together towards the elimination of hate, discrimination, and prejudice.” During a demoralizing time, Fiver’s Instagram statement was incredibly uplifting and a reminder of all to be hopeful for: that change is possible and everyday, individuals, organizations, and movements are passionately working towards a better future for all. While there is hate in the world, there is so much good, too.
I am really honored to have had the opportunity to witness firsthand not only the impact Fiver has on its participants, but the current and future impact Fiver participants will have on this country and in this world. Fiver’s youth are from underserved communities from across New York City and Central New York, many of whom are youth of color and from low-income backgrounds. As a first-generation college graduate and woman of color, it inspires me to see youth from backgrounds similar to my own with access to enrichment and development programs. I am deeply grateful to Future Leaders in Action for making my experience at Fiver Children’s Foundation possible, and to the entire Fiver team and participants for sharing their work and time with me over the past twelve weeks.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.” This quote from my favorite movie series, Harry Potter, encapsulates my sentiments above. For me, the light is Fiver and Fiver youth.