When we think of leaders, we often wonder what were the teaching moments that shaped opportunities to grow into leadership. In our own life journeys we can look back and consider those teachers, mentors and family that walked with us along the road to motivate us to make a difference. What I am reminded of daily in our program of ALAS is the wealth of leadership that exists in our youth when given an opportunity to use their natural skills, gifts and character to be that leader. Consistently in our youth of ALAS and beyond, I have found that the most quiet kid is a leader waiting to take his turn to teach. But if he or she has never been given an opportunity, their talent stays hidden, never allowed the opportunity to share all that he or she holds.
Recently, our youth of ALAS were called on to come out to volunteer at a bimonthly food pantry to support helping our extended family of Pescadero. We were excited to begin bringing a few youth to "help" out at the food distribution. Responsibilities at the food pantry include greeting the families, assisting in making food bags for the eighty families that arrive, help with vegetables, carry out bags for mothers and the elderly and support those that come to the pantry. Originally, we thought that our youth could help work the vegetable line or take on smaller roles of support. What we found was that our youth came with an enthusiasm to give back in a profound way. They didn't just help, they jumped in with hands and hearts wide open to serve in a way that honored the families with a smile, care and a willingness to serve.
At first we had about five youth coming and it has grown to eighteen, all calling on their own to check in about being part of the program. Each of them come with an attitude of service and have taken a leadership role to organize the twice a month food pantry. With adult leaders present, the youth have really claimed the pantry as a space for them to give back and serve with a smile. Each family is greeted in Spanish by our youth, inviting them with a smile as they get their groceries for the week. What I see in the eyes of our youth as I observe their enthusiasm is that they recognize the hard work the families from Pescadero do to support all of us in their jobs. Our youth understand that those coming to the food pantry work hard and provide for us on the Coast in many ways, through the agricultural jobs that they do day in and day out. One of the younger youth said it best "when I see their hands and how hard they work, it makes me want to give more".
Our youth are leaders if given opportunities to fly and soar above. We are so proud of our ALAS youth in all ways. They lead in community events, performances, in their neighborhoods, in church, school and beyond. Today they are leading in Pescadero and we couldn't be prouder to see the smile and heart they have to give back and be teachers for us all. In their care, they show respect, in their determination they show dedication, in their leadership they exhibit the heart of social justice.
Belinda is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in California and Founder of A.L.A.S. She also is Faculty at the University of San Francisco, where she teaches in the Counseling Department. She has a doctorate in International and Multicultural Education. Her research is focused on the psychological trauma experienced by many in the immigration system as well as understanding healing spaces in the Latino community.