This summer, Youth Advocacy Corps (“YAC”), a project fiscally sponsored by RAP, launched its pilot program—the Youth Advocacy Summer Institute (“YASI”). YASI is a summer-long health justice, legal advocacy, and youth leadership program, through which teens from NYC’s most disadvantaged and isolated neighborhoods are trained to become health advocates in their own communities. YASI provides service and experiential learning opportunities, in addition to training, and the youth work for a living-wage stipend as health advocates in Brooklyn.
YASI 2015 was incredible! The program included a terrific founding corps of ten youth advocates from all over NYC, including East New York, Brownsville, Sunset Park, Crown Heights, Bushwick, the South Bronx, Mill Basin, and Harlem. Some of the youth traveled over an hour each way to be part of YASI. Nonetheless, everyone was excited to engage in 6 weeks of advocacy training, leadership skill-building and service. Moreover, the diversity of the group led to fascinating and thought-provoking discussions.
Weeks 1 and 2 of YASI were part of the youth participants’ “bootcamp.” During these weeks, the advocates participated in issue-based workshops and group exercises to develop leadership and life skills. Speakers came in to discuss different forms of advocacy and health issues facing communities impacted by poverty, and included, among others:
- Community organizers from New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI);
- Two lawyers (one from the Legal Health division of NYLAG and another from South Brooklyn Legal Services);
- Two communications experts (one from BerlinRosen and the other a professor from Baruch College); and,
- The director of a medical translation program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital.
During Week 3, each YASI advocate worked at a health clinic or community-based advocacy organization, which included: Make the Road NYC, NYLPI, Jamaica Hospital, East New York Farms, the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Clinic and Berlin Rosen. They learned a lot, were surprised by how much they could contribute based on what they learned in the YASI bootcamp, and were truly grateful for the unique experience and opportunity!
Throughout the last three weeks of the program, the YASI youth advocates worked in health clinics in four of the Brooklyn public libraries (New Lots, East Flatbush, Cypress Hills and Prospect Heights). They provided resources and referrals and answered the questions of community members about their health rights. The students found this part of the program both incredibly challenging and quite rewarding. In all, they assisted almost 100 people in 3 weeks and were profoundly touched by their individual ability to help others in need in local communities.
In addition, throughout the last three weeks, the YASI advocates each chose a health justice topic and developed an advocacy campaign to launch in their communities. At their graduation ceremony, the YASI corps members had an opportunity to present their individual advocacy projects, which they have committed to work on throughout the 2015-2016 school year. Their projects cover a wide range of topics. For example, two youth are working on erasing the stigma around mental health and encouraging their peers and communities to focus on bringing more services to their communities. Another participant will work on providing health resources and information to undocumented immigrants in her community who may be eligible for public health assistance of some kind. Additionally, another young person will work to reduce the number of tobacco smokers in his community and will use his artwork and social media to spread the message that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in America and should therefore be avoided.
You can learn more about YASI’s work on their Facebook page here and read some of the corps’ members reflections about the program below.
Please feel free to contact Jennifer Magida, founder and director of YASI, with any questions at: [email protected].
YASI Participant Reflections
“Participating in YASI this summer has been a memory that I will hold very dearly. It has given me motivation and confidence to know that I’m capable of making change.”
“This program is amazing – Absolutely amazing experience. From learning how to speak up for things I believe in to opening my eyes to possible career goals. Awesome”
“My externship at Jamaica Hospital connected me to an opportunity that I have desired my whole life. I was able to meet amazing doctors and learn about a career path I hope to one day pursue.”
“During these past few weeks at the clinics, you have showed me that I can make a difference by just listening to someone and introducing them to ways that they can seek help for friends and themselves.”
“YASI has given me the opportunity to build more confidence to continue to practice public speaking, to display responsibility in giving advice, and to share ideas with others.”
“Through YASI, you have proved to me over and over how even youth can make a strong impact on their community. You provided me with tools I can use to give back to my community.”
“Thank you for believing that if we just take a stand for something we believe in, change is inevitable.”