Another Amazing Youth LEAP Summer at Children’s Aid Society

RAP’s Excecutive Director, Khadijah Silver, was honored with speaking at the closing ceremony of one of our longtime partner sites, the Children’s Aid Society. Read her reflections below on the end of this special group! 

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From my first day at RAP, I knew about our amazing partnership with Children’s Aid Society in Harlem, where we host Youth LEAP every summer. Last year, one of our facilitators was then-intern Maria Santana, who is now Lead Facilitator at RAP. She regaled me with tales of the incredible leaders she met during her time facilitating, and how it had inspired her to change her focus in college to “major in RAP!” But nothing could have prepared me for how engaged, self-aware, compassionate, curious and brilliant these young leaders actually were. This summer, I got to sit in with our interns and participants during a session and speak at the group’s incredibly moving appreciation ceremony.

Pictured above: CAS group members hard at work on their community impact project!

The group was facilitated by RAP’s summer program interns Sophie Guity, an undergraduate majoring in Urban and Community Studies at CUNY’s Murphy Institute, and Zoey Peresman, an MSW student at the Silberman School of Social Work. While RAP provides a robust curriculum, one of its most powerful assets is its flexibility. Each week, the two interns would assess how the previous week had taught them about the participants’ needs, research, and adjust accordingly. I got to see this in action, as they answered participant questions about sexual health and the law.

“As I look back at my summer with RAP,” Sophie told me, “all I can think about is that this is what I want to and need to be doing with my life, teaching adolescents and young adults about non-academic subjects and helping them understand that their voices matter.”

“As their facilitator, I knew that not only were they there to learn from me but I was also there to learn from them,” Sophie continued. “They kept me on my toes with their questions and curious minds. I appreciate them for this and hope they keep this up for the rest of their lives.”

Pictured above: The CAS group on their final day after the Appreciation Ceremony.

As the summer wound down, I found myself in a room with CAS leadership, New York politicians from every level, funders and RAP staff, to celebrate the 20 participants in this summer’s Youth LEAP program at CAS and hear them share their experience. I was proud to be one of the commencement speakers thanking them for their dedication to their peers and their city, and getting to hug many of their rightfully proud parents. The young people presented the impact project they had developed over the summer: a sexual consent kit including an informative pamphlet, sticker, pin reading “Consent is Given, Not Assumed,” and a condom. Before this celebration, they had distributed these kits at teen health clinics in Harlem and the Bronx, while educating their peers about consent and their sexual healthcare rights under the law.

The emotion in the room on this last day was palpable as the participants were sad to see the program come to a close. One group member, Lester Ellis, presented an award to co-facilitators Zoey and Sophie, saying: “I looked forward to Fridays every week — Fridays were my days to really be myself and explore and learn. I love you guys — I don’t know what I’m going to do without my Fridays.”

Another participant credited RAP’s facilitators with teaching her and the rest of the twenty-person group “more about resilience, work ethic, and community than ever before.” Every one of these young leaders has the tenacity and resilience to succeed with our continued support. RAP is dedicated to ensuring their success, and that of the thousands of low-income youth like them across the city.

“RAP’s mission and values will continue to inform all of my work in the future,” Zoey told RAP, “and I can’t thank you enough for creating such a welcoming environment that allowed me to absorb these values.”