Over the past 33 years, CCEJ Building Bridges for Youth programs have cultivated the hearts and minds of youth to grow into stronger leaders for justice at our life-changing Building Bridges Camp.  For many students, the three powerful days of Camp inspire them to push themselves further by delving deeper into CCEJ’s mission to end oppression in the United States.  For these highly motivated students, CCEJ offers a Summer Youth Leadership Institute (SYLI).

At SYLI, high school students spend five weeks of their summer break being trained to take on the responsibility of serving as Youth Leaders at future Building Bridges Camp. The program is offered at no cost to students, and begins with a 3-day retreat followed by 4 weekly sessions from June to August. Students in SYLI develop facilitation skills, practice dialoguing about social inequities, and deeply explore the ways people have advocated for justice in the United States since the country was created.

This summer, CCEJ welcomed a new group of 43 youth from various schools as Youth Leaders for our 2018-2019 camp season.  As we get ready for our first Building Bridges Camp of the new school year, let’s look back at the powerful growth and learning that some of our new Youth Leaders had this past summer at SYLI:

“Applying to the Summer Youth Leadership Institute (SYLI) was one of the best experiences I had! When I was at camp, I heard about how exciting it was and knew immediately I wanted to apply. The application process was not overwhelming and amazingly, the interview was not stressful, which I really appreciated. But most importantly, the whole process was fun and I would do it again!”   – Olivia Hakey, Millikan H.S.

“Attending the retreat was something very new but also very nostalgic. It had hints of Camp but more centered on our role as future Youth Leaders (YLs). I enjoyed it, it enhanced my feelings about social justice and gave them deeper meaning. The best part about the retreat was being able to discuss my feelings about gender. Gender identity and expression is often a topic ‘brushed under the rug’ in my life so being able to openly discuss it gave me hope that things will change and it will be openly accepted. The retreat helped me step into my role as a leader by making me understand that leadership involves listening to campers.  During facilitation training, I was able to work out what I did and didn’t understand so confusion didn’t arise when facilitating. SYLI also helped me understand that as a facilitator, I must be transparent about my skills, since there is always more room for me as a Youth Leader to learn.” – Nayeli Victoria Gutierrez, Jordan H.S.

“My experience during the weekly meetings at CCEJ have been very effective and even though I felt I understood most of the topics we talked about pretty well, I believe that there’s always more you can learn. I’ve also seen that I have different understandings to every topic that we learn and that I can also gain more knowledge within each topic. During the weekly meetings we learned a little bit about everything, such as gender identity and the stereotypes about what Men and Women “are supposed to have and act like.” We also discussed racial justice issues within your own racial group and outside of our own racial group, and we talked about the different -isms such as racism, sexism and so on. Being at the weekly meetings really helped me grow further towards becoming a YL because of all the knowledge that I had to obtain.  I learned that not a lot of people are up for challenges and I loved how these meetings challenged me to be a better version of me.”  – Ashley Rhodes, McBride H.S.

“I am really excited now that I have completed SYLI and have finally become a YL, and I’m really looking forward to being a YL at camp for the first time. Being a part of SYLI has made me push myself out of my comfort zone, which isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and has prepared me to not only be a role model for the campers but to hold space for them as well. I have gotten to know many others from SYLI and I cannot wait to work with them.” – Treasure Joiner, Wilson H.S.

Thank you to our Youth Leaders for sharing their experiences. CCEJ is committed to amplifying the power of youth voices throughout Southern California, and hope you feel inspired by Youth Leaders like Olivia, Victoria, Ashley, and Treasure. Join us in building life-long leaders for justice by supporting SYLI and other Building Bridges for Youth programs through a generous donation or becoming one of hundreds of CCEJ volunteers!

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