- Who We Are
- What We Do
- Who We Work With
- Our Stories
- Training and Consulting
- News and Events
- Activities, Toolkits and Reports
- Online Communities
- Current Initiatives
- Contact Us
The Art of Service: Youth as Leaders in New Haven, CT
Submitted by Ana on Wed, 05/12/2010 - 10:00.
New Haven, Connecticut is not known as an arts capital of the modern world. Rather, in recent years, connotations of life in the city have been overwhelmingly negative. Nevertheless, a group of New Haven middle schoolers, Youth as Leaders (YAL) of New Haven’s Easter Seals Goodwill Industries, have committed themselves to serving their community by uncovering and highlighting how the arts play a positive role in neighborhood life.
Rosana Garcia is YAL’s adult advisor. Her philosophy of working with young people is an infectious attitude of sincere welcome. “If you want to be here, you’re a part of our family and your opinion matters,” she regularly tells YAL members. She also has a personal penchant for creative expression; “[YAL’s] connection to the arts is partially my fault,” she joked.
YAL developed as a result of concerns expressed during a 2006 community forum that The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven hosted in the city’s Hill neighborhood. Residents were adamant that the neighborhood needed an afterschool program designed specifically for middle school students; in 2007 Easter Seals Goodwill Industries launched YAL, a youth development program that incorporates community service for students ages 10 – 14. In September of 2009, YAL joined the Innovation Center’s service-learning initiative, Collective Leadership Works.
From the beginning, thanks in large part to Rosana, one of YAL’s goals for participating young people is that they express themselves creatively through the arts. From there, YAL members have made the work all their own. They’ve signed their name – literally and figuratively – on all aspects of YAL’s projects. It is, after all, art.
Many of YAL’s projects use art that address issues in the community that concern YAL members. In the past, YAL members have spoken out against violence and its effects on youth’s lives by writing and illustrating a comic book about the topic; they’ve tackled the issue of community health by trying their hand at culinary arts and creating a cookbook of healthy recipes.
Since joining Collective Leadership Works, YAL members have enlisted other young people in their projects. For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, YAL partnered with the local Boys & Girls Club to create banners honoring the life of Dr. King. During the week of Earth Day, YAL members learned about the effects of litter in their community; they then painted old oil drums and repurposed them as trashcans for the neighborhood. They also teamed up again with the Boys & Girls Club to take part in a community cleanup; they have a second cleanup planned for this month and hope to engage even more community members – youth and adults.
Like the banners and colorful trashcans, some of YAL’s most successful projects have been public art projects, including the two mural YAL members painted – one in downtown New Haven and the second in YAL’s own Hill neighborhood. The murals are “a very visible stamp that [YAL] kids were able to put on the city – and they’re very proud of it,” Rosana said. She continued: “These murals are something that will be around for a while, and the YAL team can touch back on it as a positive experience.”
These murals, perhaps more so than any YAL project to date, exemplify the group’s goals and commitment to improving their community with the artistic talents and resources of individuals, no matter their age. Recently, YAL members have turned their attention to expanding these murals in an effort to show others in the community what they’ve already learned for themselves: that New Haven is rich with arts resources, many of them hidden within individuals. YAL’s goal is to create a truly “neighborhood mural” – a work that reflects the talents and dreams of all community members. “We really think it’s important for everyone to see that the neighborhood is full of talents and has a lot of assets,” Rosana said. The group is currently recruiting peers and neighbors to contribute to the community artwork.
Rosana also views the murals as two of YAL’s greatest successes. “I intentionally drive by the [mural] downtown almost every day,” she said. “It reminds me of why I do the work: the kids have fun and know that they have something to offer the city; the city sees that the kids can contribute; and, ultimately, my group feels a kinship that they do the work together.”