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There's a movement stirring in Albuquerque. It started with Youth Jam, an annual event created by youth for youth. It's a talent show, a way to raise awareness of mental health issues, and a place to connect kids and parents up to community organizations and services. From Youth Jam came Youth POWER (Youth Promoting Our Wellness and Encouraging Resilience), a regular gathering of youth and community members with a focus on developing leadership skills.

 

Learning Leadership

Jacqueline Padilla has been a youth organizer since the very first Youth Jam in 2009. She's now a vital part of Youth POWER's leadership training meetings. "I really like that we've started doing these trainings. I love seeing how many people actually come. We have close to 40 or 50 people. It shows me we are reaching people," she says. Each meeting has a different theme designed to help people learn more about themselves, each other, and the way they relate to their communities.

When you step into a Youth POWER meeting, the first thing you notice is the food. There's always a complete meal at the start. The young people that come to Youth Power are from all sorts of different backgrounds. Some are currently living in shelters. Some have been in juvenile detention. Some have been treated for psychiatric issues. Some are looking to connect with others and help out their community. Parents, teachers, and community organizers also join in, making Youth POWER one of the most interesting and diverse groups in town.

"Your voice can be heard. You can come here and you can make a difference. You can help youth. You can share your experiences with others and learn from it so they don't have to go through it."

Meet the youth of Youth POWER

Richie, 20, had been in juvenile detention. His participation in Youth POWER has been a positive force in his life. "Your voice can be heard. You can come here and you can make a difference. You can help youth. You can share your experiences with others and learn from it so they don't have to go through it," he says. Marissa is a 15-year-old participant. When asked what she's learned from Youth POWER, she says, "You learn how to be a leader. Most recently, it would be that a leader needs to be courageous."

Adult organizers lend a hand

Sarah Couch, an independent mental health care professional, and Brooke Tafoya, Bullying and Violence Prevention Coordinator with Albuquerque Public Schools, are the lead adult organizers for Youth POWER. "We wanted to have real conversations with young people about how social justice issues are affecting their lives and how understanding them can help create leadership opportunities and make a difference in the world," says Couch.

It takes a special attitude to work with such a diverse group of youth. "You have to be really open. You have to want young people to have a voice. You have to believe they have something to say so you can listen," says Tafoya. The rewards are in seeing young people develop leadership skills, overcome the difficulties of their pasts, and be better prepared for life and jobs in the future.

Strength in differences

Youth POWER is about embracing diversity while discovering how we are all connected. That knowledge becomes a strength and is the basis for building leadership skills that translate into every day life. "One of the main things I've learned is how different everybody is, but the same. How everybody can get together, even though they're from different backgrounds and different schools and different gangs, and talk about serious issues without being afraid," says Padilla.

Youth POWER is also busy organizing the 5th annual Youth Jam, which will take place on May 11. Get involved by visiting Youth Power's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/YouthPowerNM.

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