The conclusion of the 2022-2023 program year is fast-approaching, and this month, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the values and practices that we center when fulfilling our mission: to inspire and support students to be their best selves through mentoring, learning experiences, and a powerful community.
A critical cornerstone of CfY programming is Student Leadership. Our students are capable, powerful, resilient, and knowledgeable, and they have voice and agency within all aspects of our programming.
In centering the experiences of our students and empowering them to lead, we invite students to apply annually to our LeaderCorps team formed by 6-8 current mentees. LeaderCorps members regularly attend structured meetings with CfY Staff throughout the year to plan programming and deliver feedback, acting as a voice for the larger student body at CfY.
Among other activities, this year’s LeaderCorps team members had the opportunity to facilitate community workshops, lead attendees in playing a game at the 2023 Aspire Gala, and plan special events, such as Community Voices and the annual CfY Completion Ceremony.
For many students, self-advocacy is an important first-step in becoming a leader and speaking up on behalf of others. Pearl Polinar-Keating, a LeaderCorps student of two years, feels that CfY and LeaderCorps have prompted her to take an active role in preparing for her future and bettering her community.
“I’ve been in the program and in LeaderCorps for two years, and this program has really given me a lot in terms of personal development,” says Pearl. “I came into this during COVID. Before and during COVID, and I didn’t advocate for myself in terms of my future and doing things to prepare, so joining CfY has made me a lot more conscientious of what I can do for the future, and what I can do to help my peers and the world around me, because we’re literally a community.”
One of Pearl’s favorite parts of LeaderCorps has been working on hard skills, such as public speaking, interviewing, group facilitation, and feedback delivery – all necessary for college and career readiness and success.
For other students, the program has provided an expanded definition of leadership, an important concept which can feel limited without context and practice.
“Everyone is a leader in some way – it just depends on how you practice it and what your philosophy is about leadership,” says current student Eden Yemane. “Communication is a really big part of being a leader, and we communicate about how we want the workshops to look. A good leader is willing to learn from others, and is willing to communicate and have an open mindset, taking and building off of other ideas.”
At CfY, adults are opportunity brokers, collaborators, listeners, and supporters, who meet students where they are and inspire them on their own unique and transformative journeys. When we as adults treat our relationship to youth as one of partnership and empowerment, students achieve success and reach their full potential on their own terms – and many times, they carry this spirit of collaboration and support to effect positive change in their communities.
Current LeaderCorps member Henok Yemane is a senior at Franklin High School, and CfY student of three years. In reflecting on the intersection between his experiences and what he’s learned during his time at LeaderCorps, he emphasized the importance of speaking up and the value of being heard and validated.
“Speak up no matter what. Even if you feel like your voice isn’t gonna be heard, it’s gonna be heard somewhere,” says Henok. “All you need is one ‘yes’. That’s something that I’m following through on.”
We’d like to thank our current LeaderCorps students, Eden Yemane, Henok Yemane, Angela Zhang, Yanni Zhang, Jai Balde, and Pearl Polinar-Keating for being leaders and advocates in our community, and for helping CfY staff create useful and engaging community workshops. We couldn’t do it without you!
Become a mentor to a young person in your community! CfY is now recruiting mentors for CfY Duos, our flexible introductory program, and will begin recruitment for our primary program, Learning Communities, in June 2023. We have students who would like to work with female mentors of color, trans or nonbinary mentors, and indigenous mentors. For questions and more information about programming, reach out to Yleana Benitez at firstname.lastname@example.org!