Youth Give Big for the Holidays
By Dianne Anderson
Teens aren’t always just about iPhones, xBox gaming and cool wireless headphones.
Some are also getting real about helping those less fortunate this season by collecting coats and warm jackets as part of their community outreach service.
They may not be able to afford much, but they always make a way to help others in need.
Paula Wood, Executive Director of the nonprofit Success in Challenges, said their teens are interested in knowing what’s going on in the community, and they want to give back.
“I see more and more of this as the holidays come. It’s what can we do to help the homeless? What can we do to help those people that don’t have anything?” she said.
Over the past few weeks, their youth in the program have taken it upon themselves to host a collection project for the homeless men and women of the Long Beach Mission.
“Right now we have about 20 youth participating, that’s the project our youth wanted,” she said. “The new group is growing and it’s all about service, leadership, and training.”
The teens are also active in the Long Beach citywide youth network, where they engage parental and community awareness on some of the more pressing issues impacting students at the school district.
The network is trying to pressure the district to provide more funding for education and prevention rather than student policing. She said there is a lot of energy around keeping kids in the classroom instead of pushing them toward detention or suspension.
“We’ve been working on that with Long Beach Unified to educate them. We’re looking at recidivism – the ways in which they can work with the youth that are less punitive,” she said.
Locally, the grassroots nonprofit Success In Challenges program was started 14 years ago by her husband Dr. Rev. Leon Wood, including the Long Beach Freedom School as part of the National Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program.
Year-round, their program also offers a range of learning and recreation programs, after-school help, tutoring, arts and crafts, sports and performing arts. In the summer, they host their six-week reading enrichment Freedom School for children from 6 to 16 years old.
Through their Enrichment Club, students access arts and craft, and each day offers a different focus, including Mentee and Me to motivate, inspire and build self-esteem.
In all, about 65 to 75 kids are served daily.
Initially, Wood said the Freedom Schools started with getting out the vote, and teaching the community to read to take a more active role in their civic duty. The program was an essential part of the civil rights movement, but over the years, Freedom Schools have shifted to reading in their summer school curriculum.
Even so, the election campaigns of recent months offered a few exciting teachable moments.
In September, candidates came through to share their political platforms at the program’s nonpartisan events, and the kids and parents had a chance to hear local speakers cover some hot-button issues going on in their city.
“We had a series of trainings that took place. A class from USC wanted to come out and work with the students, put out flyers and try to encourage people about voting,” she said.
Their Teen Leadership Program helped create awareness of the voting process with a three-day registration event, opening up the site with computers for local residents to register. They were engaged, went out talking to parents and the community about the propositions, and why they should vote.
“It was amazing. We were also able to register some teens. This was the first year we were allowed to pre-register teens 16 to 18 years old,” she said.
No doubt, the community has many challenges. At the same time, she is encouraged this time of year to see the residents of Northpoint Apartments, which is HUD housing, have the heart to help others, even as many families struggle during the holidays to stay afloat.
They are now gearing up for their annual toy and food giveaway at Northpointe, where all donations, however small and steady, count.
“They say if it wasn’t for the lower and the middle class, the nonprofits would be in trouble because those are the people that give on a regular basis. I have people that send $25 or $50 every single month, and you appreciate that,” she said.
For more information, see www.successinchallenges.com