Youth for Healthy Schools

Floreciendo From Mentee to Mentor

InnerCity Struggle (ICS), based out of East Los Angeles, hosts Estefany Ines Garcia one of the Healthy Communities III Fellows. ICS organizes to build a powerful and an influential movement of youth and families on the Eastside of Los Angeles to promote healthy, safe and nonviolent communities. 

Healthy Communities III is a fellowship program connected to eight youth organizing groups in the West, South, Northeast and Southwest. Each group hosts a Healthy Communities Fellow who leads their school and community wellness work and connects it to state and national strategies for change including community education and engagement and policy development and implementation.

In this reflection, we learned from Estefany about her growth and transformation as a leader and organizer, and the relationship of her personal journey and her work as a mentor to young people campaigning for higher quality and better access to food in their school.

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My name is Estefany Garcia and I am a youth organizer with InnerCity Struggle (ICS) in Los Angeles, California. For the past 2 years, I have been transforming from mentee to mentor as a fellow with the Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO).

My mother brought me to life when she was 16 years old, and since then both of my parents, who were undocumented, have had to work two jobs to sustain our family. To avoid coming home to an empty house with no food, I joined the Chicana/o Studies Club after school in the 8th grade. Apart from being fed, they helped me develop my socio-political consciousness with other youth leaders. Then, I became involved with the Eastside Café, an autonomous community space in my neighborhood that introduced me to organizing, Son Jarocho music, and my extended family of community organizers.

facebook_1543352112371Being raised by my community collectively, I saw how they organized through the arts, but never received formal training. I had many trials and errors as I began to organize and take on more responsibilities along the way.

Fortunately, when I began organizing with InnerCity Struggle, I was offered the Healthy Communities Fellowship with FCYO where I could receive formal coaching and organizing trainings. Throughout my first year at ICS, I dealt with self doubt and didn’t feel confident sharing my recommendations when surrounded by senior organizers. I would feel ashamed and embarrassed for not knowing everything I needed to know coming into the field but had the support from my coach Nijmie and the fellows across the nation where we shared our vulnerabilities, challenges, best practices and affirmed each other along the way. During my second year of the fellowship, I put the skills I gained to practice when I began helping youth leaders begin their first campaign.

Our first campaign was transformative for everyone involved! We were all learning how to unfold a campaign from start to finish together. It all started from a venting session. During one of our meetings, we were talking about friends, family, expectations, and school. The conversation about school kept going back to their negative lunch time experience. I got a poster paper, and began jotting down the issues they were sharing.

They shared how the food was often burnt or undercooked, and how students in general didn’t eat to avoid the long lines. A former United Students leader shared: “How do they expect us to do well in school if we are not eating! That’s it, WE WANT FOOD NOW!” This led to their chosen campaign name. Their fire and enthusiasm to change the injustice sparked a fire in me that gave me to courage to take on the challenge with them!

Following the conversation, I checked in with Nijmie and my supervisor. They suggested we hold a delegation with the principal to discuss the issue and explore alternatives. I prepped with the youth leaders. We assigned roles, created a script, and made index cards in case they forgot their talking points. The young folks were prepared but still looked nervous. As we did a unity clap before entering the delegation, I tried to hide my nerves, acting as if this was not my first delegation.

During the delegation, the principal ignored their concerns and recommendations. He said that the reason the lines were so long was because people forgot their pin number to get their food. He said, “Next semester y’all can make a campaign to create pin number awareness. Thank you for your time.”

The young people left the delegation feeling confused. They felt like their ideas were dismissed, and instead wanted to gather information to use as evidence for the problem they were experiencing. That is when we began youth participatory action research with the support from another Healthy Communities fellow. The young people, driven to improve the school’s lunch experience, also added extra meetings during the week to address the issue before the semester ended.20180517_114802

The youth leaders came up with the questions, finalized the survey design, and distributed them to their peers. Of the approximately 1,200 students, more than 300 students participated in the survey. The youth leaders then analyzed the data. For the question asking students what prevented them from getting food during lunch, remembering their pin was actually not the biggest challenge identified. Then they met with the cafeteria manager to get a better understanding from the cafeteria staff. The cafeteria manager agreed that there should be another lunch line, but that they couldn’t hire another staff until more students were eating. This information then made the young folks revisit their campaign demands to include asks around both the quality and access of their food.

After meeting almost everyday during lunch and a few times a week after school, they were finally ready to have a second delegation with their principal. This time they had research that exposed the root of the issue that backed up their demands. It was not an easy delegation –  the principal wanted the youth to address these issues to the state and kept directing them to other people, but the youth leaders were great at re-grounding him on his role and how he could help. At the end, the youth leaders were able to secure 4 out of their 5 demands.  They were proud of themselves for improving their school’s lunch experience and helped me practice the skills gained through my fellowship.

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Growing up I always wanted to be like my mentors who were community organizers. I still remember getting emotional when I read the job description to be a youth organizer with ICS. Some of my mentors from the community space were also organizers at ICS and would mentor me on the weekends. To be in a place where I can work with young people to help build their confidence, leadership skills, and organize to improve our community is such a blessing and full circle. I hope to continue this great work for future generations to come. Ometeotl.


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