Walking into the small room that serves as our idea hub, the walls are full (as they always were) with ideas for the future. My attention is instantly drawn to the oval table in the center of the room and the lively discussion that my peers are engaging in.
This is my favorite part about working at Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), in the REEP program. As the young person at this youth-led nonprofit social reform agency, we are encouraged to discuss topics we are passionate about and to take hold of these conversations ourselves. These discussions range from political discrimination to food insecurity. The ideas that they produce form the basis of the plans that lined our walls.
While working at ACE, youth interns are encouraged to think for themselves. We are taught to embrace ideas of individuality and change, and are taught that the fight to improve our communities begins with us. We begin each meeting by telling our group how our day has been, and answering the allocated group question. This isn’t meant to be an introductory task, but rather a bonding practice for ourselves and each other. With this task, we are able to familiarize ourselves with the personalities of those around us, and digest our own thoughts aloud. In other words, we are able to bond with those we are fighting with, and understand what we want to fight for.
The support received as a REEPer is unmatched by any program I’ve witnessed. Through guidelines written and signed by all members of REEP, and an understanding that one won’t be judged by their backgrounds or ideologies, all youth interns can feel safe to voice their opinions. Resources are consistently shared with each youth member, whether it is about housing programs or college prep seminars. Youth interns are offered help in any way possible.
Being a REEPer has taught me the power that my voice holds and the impact that my advocacy can have on society. The feeling of being heard has made me want to speak.
ACE also gives their youth interns opportunities and experiences that are difficult to find anywhere else. In the past, we have been able to speak to city council members about pressing issues, and we have joined powerful protests advocating for change. We have been able to discuss environmental concerns and legislation, such as the Green New Deal, with other organizations. Very little has been more inspiring than the bonds we share with other youth-led organizers, as we are able to discuss the future of reformation in our city.
Working at ACE has made me a better version of myself. I have evolved from the quiet, self-conscious person that I was when first joining ACE. Being a REEPer has taught me the power that my voice holds and the impact that my advocacy can have on society. The feeling of being heard has made me want to speak.
Those at REEP have become my family. The discussions we’ve had and the passions demonstrated through each fight for reform have created bonds stronger than I would have ever thought possible. Though I met ACE through a temporary internship, it will certainly have a long lasting presence. I certainly want to continue my involvement for the future.