YMI: ‘We Leave Aside the Cliques’

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Image by Melanie Stetson Freeman, CSM.

The story of one that got out, came back, and changed the game. It is the story of brave young men who were able to reach beyond hopelessness, anger, and frustration and create an intimate, supportive community with other young men. Not an easy thing to do, perhaps especially in the “other” California of the Central Valley, a place of little opportunity “far from the coast, where a soccer ball can be an unattainable luxury and parks and playgrounds are few.”

This is a familiar story of the oppression of poverty, one more place where gangs serve as “de facto employment agencies,” but also of the ever-more-resilient strength of the human heart.

The community initiative begun by Eddie Valero now saving the lives of young people in the Central Valley begins with his fishing in the trash can of the school’s guidance counselor. He dug for a crumpled note intended for the school valedictorian, a note about a Yale summer program, a note, an opportunity, that wasn’t intended for him.

But he took what he found and made his way into another world.

Patricia Leigh Brown writes for the Christian Science Monitor:

The contrast between the Ivy League privilege that Valero saw out east – “the sense of Disneyland every day” – and the have-nots in his own community prompted him to run for the school board. It didn’t take him long to notice a disturbing trend at scholarship nights and award ceremonies. “It was always double-digit females to single-digit males,” he recalls. “I said, ‘you know what? We really need to do something.’ ”

The result was the Young Men’s Initiative, a peer-led nonprofit organization for male high school students who do not have a father or positive male figure in their life. YMI, as it is known, started in a high school classroom, migrated to a pizza parlor, and now has its own home – a once-ramshackle bungalow full of cobwebs and dirt that about 20 YMIers renovated themselves – right across from the high school. The campus is a hangout, a study lounge, a place to talk, a refuge.

Check out these changemakers and risk-takers building “a place of safety, a place of comfort, a place of love and compassion.” There may be a model here for a program in your community. There are certainly many lessons in the story.

Connect with Young Men’s Initiative direct via Facebook.

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