I gazed over the crowd of five-hundred young adults clustered together at the first day orientation for the Summer YEAH Youth Program. Teenagers gathered from all regions of Sacramento in order to find a job through Asian Resources Inc. (ARI) summer program that they started 31 years ago. People stood along the walls and in front of the bathrooms in order to fit everyone. As Elizabeth Gonzalez, the coordinator, explained what the program was about, she mentioned not everyone will be able to participate. After turning in my 9 page application, I was one of 40 students to participant in the summer program. My expectations were limited to learning how to write a resume, wearing proper attire for an interview, and then start working at our selected work sites. However, it was so much more.
What happened instead was something empowering. In the two-week work readiness academy we did learn how to speak in an interview and create a resume, a lot of things changed. People from completely different backgrounds, regions, and ethnicities came together and made life long bonds that wouldn’t be broken. We built a community that extends the boundaries of our area codes. We realized that our dreams can be made a reality through hard work. We learned what being a leader means, and the traits of teamwork and dedication. We took our first step towards independence through participating in interactive role playing activities. The goal of the two weeks was to show us how important teamwork is and how we are all one. Every day we ended our time together with a Unity Clap, something that originated in the United Farm Workers Movement. All forty of us stood in a circle and placed our right hand our chest, listening to the heartbeat. Then someone would start a slow-clap and we would sync is volume and speed. We clapped together slowly, increasing in speed and for the final clap we chanted, “Isang bagsak,” which means “one fall” in Tagalong. Every day we were reminded that we fall together, and we rise together.
Forty teenagers participated in this summer youth program, but over five-hundred wanted the opportunity. We should all get the opportunity! However, as the economy worsens these programs are the first ones to get cut, and something needs to change. As children people preached to us to dream big and reach for the stars we don’t have the tools to reach our pathway. People told us we could be anything, do anything. However, as time goes on, the lack of resources, mentors, and encouragement disintegrate our dream but no way to get there. I found that empowerment to succeed through the Summer YEAH Youth Program,. How is it fair that only a small part of youth get the opportunity to succeed? Summer programs and organizations like ARI can’t continue to be expendable; they empower the youth in a way we can’t get through school or on our own. How can people tell us that we can fly, but only give some of us wings?