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Teens Mobilize Community to Support Dream Act

Challenge

The DC area is home to many undocumented immigrants who make up our workforce, neighbors, and student populations.  Students who have undocumented status have restricted access to public education compared to their legally documented counterparts.  Specifically, in pursuing higher education, tax-paying families and individuals are disqualified from in-state college tuition, which often eliminates higher education as a feasible option after high school.

In the state of Maryland, the Dream Act (Senate Bill 167) would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition.  However, the Dream Act was to be overturned if the proposition against it is passed.

Heart

Prusse Kakpovi, a high school student in Montgomery County, along with a team of other youth from the Gandhi Brigade, a youth media organization, dedicated their summer to one mission: educate and mobilize the community to support the Dream Act.

They researched the issues and then produced a documentary that follows the story of an undocumented student in Montgomery County who is trying to overcome the institutional hurdles to go to college.  They also developed a set of campaign posters with help from professional artists at Pyramid Atlantic.

Impact

The youth held a campaign kick-off event at the Civic Center in Downtown Silver Spring in December 2011 to debut their documentary and posters and bring this conversation to the community.   The youth intend to make an impact by increasing awareness in the community about the Dream Act and issues that undocumented immigrants face.  Furthermore, they aspire to mobilize citizens in their own community to learn about and vote to support the Dream Act.  Keeping the legislation from being overturned will in turn impact the lives of many students, many educational institutions, and employers and the community at large.  As a part of other funds they raised, the Heart Award enabled them to purchase campaign materials to host the screening of their film to the community.

Student Develops Sustainable Garden in Rockville

Recipient: Jay Choi, leader of the Global Leaders Club

Challenge:

Jay Choi faced the daunting task of adjusting to a new home, country, and school upon reaching the United States in the middle of his high school career.  Rather than cower, Jay rose to the challenge, and went above and beyond what was required of him.  Jay became president of the Global Leaders Club, looking to create awareness and have an impact in the field of environmental sustainability in his community.

Heart:

The group’s project was to build a small sustainable farm on the school grounds that would be maintained solely by students. The teens hope to eventually sell the crops that they grow, and the money can then be used to improve the farm in the future so that students will continue to see its benefits. The project also had potential to grow community wide as the Global Leaders Club also hopes to bring the project to other nearby schools.

Impact

“Through the project, I hope to achieve a school-wide unity among students, a collaborative power focused on conserving the environment.”–Jay Choi

Jay and his group not only installed a garden onto their school grounds, but continued to take on other projects during the year after this major success.  After receiving the Heart Award, the teens registered at the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) and was in the lead in ACE’s “Star Wars” competition which measures how many projects action teams in the nation complete.

Students in Job Corps Program Launch Holiday Book Drive for Cancer Patients

Recipient: Teen group – STARS (Students, Teachers, Achievement, Retention, Success program) of Job Corps, Laurel Center

Challenge:

STARS students who participated in the Heart Award Project come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have all been impacted by challenges in their communities and homes such as from violence, substance abuse, or loss of family members.  They have received assistance in the form of mentoring and tutoring and are living examples of heart because they have chosen to use their newly found skills to help others.

Heart:
The students in STARS , a program where a student is teamed with a mentor who provides one-on-one academic support, helps with social, coping and life skills while also being a great friend, choose to illuminate a different path for themselves and their peers. Despite the challenges they face, the students in STARS recognize the need to reach out into their communities and help others.

Impact:

On December 4, members of STARS held a book drive at Books-A-Million and collected 200 books to donate to the Kimmel Cancer Center –  Pediatric Oncology wing.  On December 12, STARS members and their coordinator, Gloria Coliton toured the Outpatient Center where they presented the books and $500 grant to the cancer center which will use the funds to purchase journals for patients to record their journeys towards recovery.

While the STARS students are in the process of changing their lives for the better, they have proven that they have HEART by also making a positive impact on the lives of others who need and can benefit from their help.

Teens Walk for Peace in Community after Classmate’s Murder

Recipient: Herson Bautista, Adrian Hinojosa, Tiffany Spencer, Sandrine Emambu, Andre Mons, Anthony Fernandez, Mary Bui, jointly, known as “Mixed Unity”

Community: Silver Spring, MD

Challenge:
Like many other Blair High School students, Adrian Hinojosa, Tiffany Spencer, Sandrine Emambu and Andre Mons have all been forced to cope with a harsh violent climate of their community. However, whereas other students may have opted for a passive approach, these teens felt compelled to make a difference. The students initially came together in reaction to a fatal shooting of Tai Lam, a fellow classmate. In the wake of the tragedy, these students stepped forward, eager to turn their frustrations and grief into a positive message of nonviolence to spread throughout the community.

Adrian Hinojosa admits making a difference as a group of students was hard: “We faced many challenges, but we had to work and overcome them and focus on our message of peace.”   Tiffany Spencer adds that, as a result of their age, “one of the challenges we faced was getting people to take us seriously.”

Heart:
As a result of their common desire to raise awareness and educate the community about the importance of non violence, Mixed Unity was formed. The club has worked to organize such events as a “Stop the Violence” concert in an attempt to raise morale and spread a non violent mentality throughout Silver Spring. Mixed Unity has shown heart through perseverance in the face of limited resources, opposition and apathy. Despite these obstacles, their mission is clear: they are determined to spread their nonviolent movement.

When asked what Heart meant to him, Hinojosa explains “Heart means a lot to me. It means getting up in front of people and expressing how you feel … and how our community is not doing so good and how we should all be together, not just in violence but in peace.” Mixed Unity member Sandrine Emambu, also notes that “This is a group made up of teens who are trying to make a difference. They lack funding to grow their wings. They know it is hard for people to believe they can change anything but they keep moving forward toward a good cause.”

Impact:
Mixed Unity used their $500 Heart Award to organize a peace walk through downtown Silver Spring. On Saturday, August 22nd various community members, students, and peace activists gathered at the very spot where Tai Lam had been slain a year before. The message of peace was proudly displayed through t-shirts and posters, funded by the Heart Award.

When presented with the Heart Award, Emambu beamed “It gives us great satisfaction that what we want to plan could finally be a reality. This will help show people that Mixed Unity is here to stay.”

The two mile peace walk ended with a peace rally attended by various community organizations and community leaders, including Senator Jamie Raskin.

Perhaps Spencer was best able to grant perspective on the importance of the event: “If there’s a problem in your community, no one’s going to make a change if no one speaks up.”

When asked what message he would like to pass onto other teens facing violence in their community, Hinojosa advises “keep your head up, it doesn’t have to be that way, you can change the way your community is.”

The event drew press coverage as well:  http://gazette.net/stories/08262009/silvnew184819_32521.shtml.

Congratulations to the teens of Mixed Unity and thank you to all of our supporters for making this happen!

Teen Shows Heart for Abused Animals in Community

Recipient: Justyce Moore

Challenge:

When Justyce was seven years old his father left his family. As the only male left at home, Justyce had to find ways to cope, to grow as a young black male, and to learn what it is to be a man. In the first years after his dad’s departure, Justyce was filled with anger. The inability to answer a simple question consumed his thoughts – Why did my dad leave?

Heart:
Despite his difficult circumstances, Justyce never took his anger out on others. Instead, he sought to explore other paths of growing up to be a man. He opened up to his older cousins, role models in the community, and a performing arts group he is involved with, Teens Express. By looking beyond the unfair and staggering challenge of being abandoned by a father, Justyce is not only overcoming this obstacle, but is also developing a mature and resilient character in the process.

Impact:

Justyce has a special place in his heart for dogs. Unfortunately, in lower-income areas, dogs are often abused and, as we know all too well from the news, sometimes used for malicious purposes. Justyce has observed and been touched by this suffering. The Heart Award will enable Justyce to not only donate $400 to the Washington Humane Society’s program for abused animals, but he will also volunteer at a local shelter. Through the Heart Award, he will be able to make a difference in his community through a monetary donation, as well as hands-on volunteering. With aspirations of being a veterinary doctor, Justyce will be able to know that at age 14, he is already making a difference in the world of animal wellness.