“ANYTOWN™ empowers young minds to take the steps needed to better their communities.” - Destiny (2013 delegate)
As the 2013 ANYTOWN™ summer finally concludes, Community Tampa Bay staff, volunteers, and 113 delegates reflect on their experiences, lessons learned, and relationships cultivated. A diverse group of over 100 youth from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties had the opportunity to participate in the ANYTOWN™ program. Through topic specific workshops, intensive dialogue groups, and intentional dorm communities, the teens were able to empathize and become allies to people facing stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. However, the five days and four nights is just the start of this lifelong process.
Each ANYTOWN™ session is championed by up to 25 diverse staff members who mirror the youth population intentionally, so all participants can see themselves reflected as change agents and leaders. The program is designed to make sure the mission of empowering diverse groups of young people to create more inclusive and just schools is achieved through meaningful dialogue and genuine cross-cultural interactions. The experience is empowering for all involved, including volunteers and parents. Franz Villate, a volunteer who served residentially in 2013, feels that each ANYTOWN™ session raises the bar. Nadia Rumbolt, another 2013 volunteer, agrees: “We were able to include even more diversity in our programs, but it couldn’t have been achieved without the excellent staff combinations.”
Nestor Ortiz, a 2013 ANYTOWN™ co-director, reiterates the purpose and focus: our youth. “We continue to become more diverse in our recruiting. We seek out communities not typically given opportunities to participate, including students with autism and other varying abilities as well as immigrant students. It does get better every year.”
For some young people, themes such as gender discrimination, the coming out process for an LGBTQ youth, and the effects of institutionalized racism are experiences they may not have thought about before ANYTOWN™. The volunteer staff empowered many youth with knowledge to make positive change. The teens learned a lot about their communities and themselves. Sara felt enlightened after the process, “ANYTOWN™ opened my eyes to the kind of world we live in and how we should all come together. Everyone’s fighting some kind of battle.” Valentina felt a different kind of connection, “I want to get started with my faith journey. I never knew where to start before, but now I do.”
Keep Calm and ANYTOWN™ On!
Now that everyone is settled back in their communities, the evidence of the effectiveness of ANYTOWN™ is affirming from the perspective of Jay, another graduate, “ANYTOWN™ taught me, overall, that change is hard. It won’t happen in the blink of an eye. It takes hard work and perseverance. ANYTOWN™ has made me realize how important it is to stop stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination. I formed many lifelong friendships with people from all different backgrounds, something I am grateful for. Thank you ANYTOWN™ staff, students, teachers, and mentors for everything you do!”
We welcome all 113 new ANYTOWN™ graduates into the growing alumni family. We look forward to continuing to promoting dialogue and cross-cultural interactions with our Anytowners year-round!
Written by Amber Carles Klee with edits by Nadia Rumbolt