Neighborhood Youth Councils lift Gainesway, Cardinal Valley

Author: Tammy L. Lane • First Posted: Monday, February 13, 2017

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At the Gainesway Community Center, students from nearby Tates Creek Middle School huddle with older peers to knock out homework assignments.

At the Gainesway Community Center, students from nearby Tates Creek Middle School huddle with older peers to knock out homework assignments.

At the Gainesway Community Center, students from nearby Tates Creek Middle School huddle with older peers to knock out homework assignments. Tates Creek High School students pair up with the middle schoolers to offer advice.All the participants are divided into so-called family units so they interact closely with the same people each month. The council's adviser, Mizari Suarez (standing), is a 2013 graduate of Tates Creek so she knows that neighborhood well.The council members and their mentees reviewed one-page biographies of several contenders for their Black History Month mural project. "The youth need someone to look up to because they might not have that at home," said junior Marilin Mazariegos (back left). "Some kids have actually gotten attached to us."

High school students on opposite sides of town have come together on two Neighborhood Youth Councils to see how they can improve the Gainesway and Cardinal Valley areas. The Tates Creek group decided on a peer mentoring approach, while the Paul Laurence Dunbar team is focused on creating a community center or supportive hub in their neighborhood.

“This is our way to really invest in the kids who live in the community,” said Laura Hatfield, executive director of Partners for Youth, an LFUCG organization that oversees the teen councils. The goal is to empower those students and help them find their voice, as Hatfield said – “This is about how you can engage in your community and make a lasting difference.”  

Her colleague Mizari Suárez, the community partners coordinator, advises the two youth councils. As a 2013 graduate of Tates Creek, she knows that neighborhood well. In the Gainesway group’s last session, the older students guided a handful of middle schoolers as they brainstormed ideas for a Black History Month mural. For inspiration, each one was invited to complete a worksheet with the prompt “I am …”

“We talked about the acceptance of diversity and our African-American leaders who have contributed to society,” Suárez said. She planned to combine the students’ collection of small canvases into one mural to display at the Gainesway Community Center and later downtown at the city government offices.

While some students researched mural candidates like Jesse Owens and Nelson Mandela, others huddled at tables to knock out homework assignments. All the participants are divided into so-called family units so they interact closely with the same people each month. The units are named after famous role models like Maya Angelou and Malala Yousafzai.

“There’s a stereotype (about Tates Creek), so we wanted the younger students to have a mentor and someone they could follow and build a relationship with. I want them to know we’re here for them,” said freshman Amiah Kenney.

The Gainesway council meets monthly with their mentees and leads the activities, including fun get-to-know-you games. They also select the discussion topics. For instance, the March session will incorporate art and yoga to cover mindfulness, and in April they will talk about curbing youth violence.

“When I was in middle school, I had all these emotions and didn’t know what to do with them,” said junior Marilin Mazariegos. “If I can just help one person, that’ll be (a success) for me.”

“As a mentor, we understand what they’re going through,” Amiah added. “Being able to be a leader and have people trust you is a good feeling.”


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