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Kroc IPJ's Social Fabric Initiative Strengthens Development of Youth Leaders

Tuesday, August 28, 2018TOPICS: ChangemakerConferences and WorkshopsFaculty and StaffUS-Mexico BorderYouth and PeacebuildingHuman Rights and Security

Today's youth are the future. You’ve probably heard that before. Simple, common sense and true. But what are we really doing? How are we, as a society, providing the path and opportunities for our youth to understand this, take hold and realize the importance of their contribution to the future?

Social Fabric Initiative Summit 2018

One way is to develop youth leaders, to help or encourage them to find their passion or at least provide the means to potentially discover it. Over the summer, the University of San Diego’s Kroc School’s Institute for Peace and Justice, alongside sponsors and supporters, has done something special.

Called the Social Fabric Initiative (SFI), this produces an opportunity for high school-age children to build collaborative social networks and develop problem-solving skills and emerge as leaders and Changemakers prepared to reshape the world. Over the summer, 11 “threads” — consisting of small and diverse teams of high school students, university intern and field-based mentor — designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated small-scale community change projects with specific components to contribute to real world, in-depth discussion topics.

This summer’s thread groups and their action methods were: International Peacebuilding as seen in a “Know Your Neighbor” documentary; Human Sex Trafficking (HST): an HST Youth Action social media campaign; LGBTQ+ Education and Advocacy: Hosting a Walks of Life Fashion Show; Plastic Pollution with a “Take Back Our Seas” awareness campaign; Public Art, an anti-bullying, inclusive theme called “Everyone’s Invited;” Gun Violence Prevention through the help of commUNITY lunchboxes filled with informative games to better understand others; Juvenile Justice Reform and Restorative Justice with a “Classroom to Courtroom” podcast series; Social Emotional Learning by way of kindness learning to compliment not just others, but ourselves; Migration and Border Issues with a “Documenting the Undocumented,” documentary; Jovenes, a Tijuana-Based Thread, in which this group worked with others to help rehabilitate a community park and gain a sense of pride as a result; and Clergy-Youth-Community and Criminal Justice Reform, done through a “packaging peace” event.

On Aug. 23, SFI hosted a summit at downtown San Diego’s Moniker Warehouse with all 11 projects exhibited and high school students on hand to answer questions and explain the details. The event did a short video on each of the projects, had a panel with high school students and university interns answer questions about what they learned this summer, two Movement Be Spoken Word testimonials, an impressive singing performance by one high school participant and closing comments from Tina Medina, a KIPJ Program Officer and director of SFI, which is a new WorldLink project developed at USD’s Kroc School.

“I’m in awe of the talent, spirit, charisma and the passion in this room tonight,” Medina said to the room-capacity crowd that gathered last week. “This incredible group of emerging peacemakers have blown my mind this summer with their innovations and determination.”

Then, after sharing some of her own story that included many life adventures, twists and turns, Medina sought to motivate the audience.

“You all are here tonight because there’s something in you that drives you, something that gives you purpose. You may not know it entirely, you may have known it at one point in your life and you pushed it aside, got distracted or dropped it in the gutter because you didn’t trust it,” Medina continued. “I’m here to remind you to tap back in, to refuel the tank, to get back in the driver’s seat and kick it into gear. I’m here to remind you to surround yourself with people who are pumped up, driven and interested in sharing this common passion with you. I’m here to remind you to go out of your comfort zone, because we don’t grow when we’re comfortable. That means to find yourself in diversity, it means to make yourself a minority and get out and find something or someone to support.”

One innovative USD graduate alumna, Bianca Alvarado ’18, certainly made a difference. Alvarado, who in May was among the inaugural graduating cohort of the Kroc School’s Master of Arts in Social Innovation (MASI) program, has been an SFI binational project manager this summer. She helped to establish a cross-border partnership between SFI and the Federal Mexican Government Institution of Baja California Youth Program. She helped facilitate connections on multiple projects, including the collaboration between SFI and Parques Alegres, a Mexican non-profit organization, to mentor and guide the youth project that rehabilitated their local park. At the Aug. 23 summit, Alvarado moderated the question-and-answer panel discussion.

SFI’s stated objective is to help build more connected communities by mobilizing youth to engineering creative solutions to real-world issues. The connection part — which brings the threads together — is extremely important.

“Without human connections, we’re lost. So, how do we strengthen those connections? How do we fill these social networks? We venture out, we learn, we lead, we do and we find others to share those experiences with and then our wisdom deepens, our circles grow, a ripple effect takes place in our community. And, before you know it, we’ve built a fabric of resilience and love that binds and protects us together. We become surrounded by people who can support us the best way they know how — sometimes it’s time, money, resources, food, hugs, whatever it takes. We do it because we want to add value to the human experience … our human experience.”

This inaugural SFI summer has ended, but through the creation of documentaries, a podcast series, sustainability and the collaboration to refurbish community park, lessons learned and knowledge gained can kickstart a lifetime of good. SFI took the first step. Subsequent summers can build and create a pathway for youth to lead us all into the future.

Learn more about Social Fabric Initiative, learn how to support it and learn how to get involved.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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