Congratulations to the Youth Squad Leaders!

Congratulations to Oakland Unite’s Messengers4Change Youth Squad Leaders for the successful completion of Friday Summer Nights at the Parks events.

These successful community programs would not have been possible without the dedication of the Youth Squad!

The Friday Summer Nights at the Park Program attracted residents, families and children to the Willie Wilkins Park on 98th Avenue and Carter Gilmore Park on 66th Avenue in East Oakland. This Oakland Unite Messengers4Change program helps residents come together, create safe spaces in their communities and promote an end to the violence that plagues their neighborhoods.

However, this program is more than just hanging-out, eating bbq and playing games. With funding from the Measure Y, Oakland Fund for Children and Youth (OFCY) and the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Program, Oakland Unite’s Messenger4Change is able to hire Oakland youth to work at the parks and gain important job experience, learn responsibility and give back to their community.OFCY_Logo_color_A

The at-risk youth funded by OFCY are given the opportunity to have summer employment as well as work with case managers to overcome the challenges they are facing in their life that are causing them to make poor choices. This program allows them to learn responsibility and a strong work ethic while at the same time being actively supported by a case manager in all aspects of their lives.

One such youth is Lester. Lester is twenty years old and grew-up on 98th Avenue. He worked at the very first Summer Nights at the Parks Program on 98th and he was back again this year after being referred by a counselor at his school. Lester admits that if he was not a part of this program he would not have done anything with his summer and would have been hanging-out and being bored. However, instead he had the opportunity to have fun at the park and give back to his community at the same time. He said, “It was a fun experience. I liked working and interacting with kids. I got to see new people. It was just fun.” However, Lester does not just think about the fun aspects of the work he did at the park. He sees the program as an important part of keeping his community safe. He said, “I hope that it decreased the violence and brought people together, united them. I hope the program keeps going because it gives a lot of young people and adults something to do instead of getting into trouble.”

Celeste is also a member of the Youth Squad. She is 15 1/2 and was referred to this program by a family member. This was her first year being a part of the parks program and she was specifically impressed by the diversity of the youth and participants. When asked about her favorite community engagement event at the park she said, “I liked that the kids got to do the dance contest and weren’t even nervous. They just got out and did it. They were so cute.”Just like Lester, Celeste sees the parks programs as an important way to decrease the violence in her community. “It helps people get along better. It makes people see that everyone is not bad and they can help each other with the struggles they are going through.”

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Celeste and Lester

These two Oakland youth are making a difference in their communities. The 2013 independent external evaluation cited a 48% reduction in police incidents around Willie Wilkins Park during the Friday Summer Nights at the Park Program compared to the previous years prior to the program starting. The data from 2014 is not available yet, however this year was hugely successful at getting people out to the parks. All the Youth Squad participants commented that they felt overwhelmed by the amount of community members that came up to them during the events and thanked them for being there. Lester, Celeste  and all the youth that participated can feel proud of the work they did to decrease the violence in Oakland and help their community come together.

Last week Oakland Unite celebrated the success of the Youth Squad Leaders. Part of the celebration included presentations given by the youth. These presentations focused on how they would address violence in Oakland if they were politicians. The youth were divided into four groups, two from each park. Each group presented unique ideas about ways in which violence could be reduced in their communities. Ideas ranged from having more employment opportunities for youth, to having youth centers in each neighborhood, to city beautification plans to community policing. The presentations were well thought-out, professional and right on target with many of the approaches that the City of Oakland is already working on to decrease violence. After the presentations Mayor Jean Quan stopped by to present the youth with certificates of recognition for their hard work over the summer.

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Congratulations Youth Squad Leaders for a great summer and for making a difference in your community!!!

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