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Strengthening our Community 1 step at a time!

Strengthening our Community 1 step at a time!

This mural, entitled The Strength of Our Community” was painted on April 14th, as a collaborative process between the Urban Services YMCA, Cuervo Studio, and students from West Oakland Middle School. Students attended an interactive art lecture on community change via art, and brainstormed the elements they wanted to represent West Oakland. Martin Moreno, lead artist, developed the mural image from their ideas, and students, artists, and volunteers painted the mural.

strength.. (cont.)

strength.. (cont.)

Many thanks to Martin Moreno, the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services Department, and the fantastic students at West Oakland Middle for making “The Strength of Our Community” come alive!

Young men become Urban Gents!

Young men become Urban Gents!

On March 24, 2012 Urban Gents was a FREE boys empowerment conference designed to empower young men, in grades 5 through 8, to accept and develop self! Under the leadership of caring workshop leaders, young men had the opportunity to learn about self-awareness, peaceful problem solving, health, responsible and appropriate behaviors, and setting goals to achieve dreams!

Monta Ellis and Rapper Common were ballin at the Eastlake Y!

Monta Ellis and Rapper Common were ballin at the Eastlake Y!

On January 26, 2012 Warriors Guard Monta Ellis and Grammy Award winning Rapper/Actor Common surprised the Urban Services YMCA’s 2012 boy’s basketball champions, the West Oakland Heat at the Eastlake Y!


While the boys were running plays for what they thought would be a Golden State Warriors commercial, their eyes and hearts lit up when they saw the faces of Monta Ellis and Common strolling through the Y doors! “I was super juiced [excited] when I saw Monta Ellis walk in the gym. I couldn’t believe he came to see us!” says Damarea Reed an 8th grader at West Oakland Middle School.


During Monta and Common’s visit, they were able to take part in running drills with the team, work on some one-on-one with the boys, and even engaging in a friendly “Blue team (Monta’s team) vs. White team (Common’s team) with Monta’s team being the winners. “Nobody is ever going to believe that Monta Ellis played defense against me, I’m going to need a picture of that” says West Oakland Middle School’s 6th grade Tyron Ireland.


Not only will this day be a mile stone in these children’s lives, it will be a memory forever engraved in their hearts. “I appreciated today so much. I felt important. The YMCA and the Warriors went out [of] their way to make us feel special.” says 8th grader Lamont Black.

                                        To check out the video, click here!

"Urban Flowers: A Day for Girls of Color to blossom!"

“On January 14, 2012, Urban Flowers: A Day for Girls of Color to Blossom” was a wonderful FREE girls empowerment conference designed to empower young girls, in grades 5 through 8, to accept and develop self! Under the leadership of caring workshop leaders, girls had have the opportunity to learn about self-awareness, peaceful problem solving, healthy bodies, building quality relationships, and setting goals to achieve dreams!
“I will never forget the stuff I learned today. I think it’ll help me make better decisions when I grow up” says 6th grade Kiara Williams. “I loved it! Can’t wait for the next one” says 5th grader A’maya Edwards.

Homeboy Enterprises Visits Homies Empowerment Program

The Homies Empowerment Program welcomed the Rev. Gregory Boyle, a Catholic priest to the Eastlake YMCA on December 10.
Father Greg as he is known, talked about his new book, “Tattoos on the Heart,” a chronicle of his nearly 25 years working with at-risk youth in Los Angeles. That is where Boyle founded Homeboy Enterprises, which has trained and organized jobs for thousands of gang-affiliated youth.
Last year, youth from the Urban Services YMCA visited Homeboy Enterprises. On Friday, many of them were on hand to listen to Boyle and get autographed copies of his book.
The Homies Empowerment Program brings together youth from rival gangs for dinner and fosters a commitment to community service and cultural awareness.

Nobel Laureate Brings Message of Peace to East Oakland

Nobel Laureate Brings Message of Peace to East Oakland

Rigoberta Menchu, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner, brought her message of community and reconciliation to East Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood on Nov. 15. Her audience in the sold-out auditorium at the Urban Promise Academy included youth affiliated with gangs, activists engaged in promoting peace and people whose lives have been changed by violence. “Ms. Menchu spoke of light amidst darkness. Her words carry weight, as her entire family was murdered, yet she still keeps hope alive,” said Cesar Cruz, the event organizer and co-founder of the Homies Empowerment Program. Cesar is also the director of Intervention Support Services at the Urban Services YMCA.

Connecting the natural and spiritual world around us, Menchu told the audience, is more important than paying into the material world of possessions. She encouraged them to be in tune with their bodies and souls, with their families and ancestors.

Menchu understands the importance of heritage. She campaigned tirelessly against human rights violations committed by the Guatemalan armed forces during the country's civil war. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work as a leading advocate for Guatemala's indigenous Mayan people.

“Witnessing such a peaceful warrior and change-agent firsthand was very moving for me and inspires my work. I read Menchu’s book years ago and it influenced me,” said Tovi Scruggs, YMCA Urban Services executive director. The YMCA of the East Bay’s CEO Robert Wilkins also attended the event; he is pictured here with Menchu.

The evening included a meet-and-greet with local dignitaries and community organizers. The YMCA of the East Bay – Urban Services, Unity Council, Chicana/Latina Foundation, SFSU Raza Faculty and Staff Association, SFSU Step to College and Oakland LEAF sponsored the event.

Read the Oakland Tribune’s coverage of the event.

VOLUNTEERS OF THE YEAR: Isvia Gonzalez and Norma Vasquez

VOLUNTEERS OF THE YEAR: Isvia Gonzalez and Norma Vasquez

Isvia Gonzalez and Norma Vasquez, two of the founders of the Eastlake YMCA’s pioneering Day Laborer Breakfast program, are the Urban Services YMCA’s 2010 Volunteers of the Year. Both are pictured at right, Norma holding the camera.

“Out of all our many amazing volunteers, Isvia and Norma really go above and beyond the call of duty. It is an honor to know and work with them,” said Cesar Cruz, director of Intervention Support Services at the Urban Services YMCA.

Isvia Gonzalez, is a senior at SF State University, where she is pursuing a degree in Raza Studies. She was among the adult mentors that helped to create the Day Laborer Breakfast Program in 2009. The program serves breakfast every Monday morning at the corner of San Leandro and High streets. This is the only location in Oakland where day workers may legally solicit work.

Isvia also organized and hosted the first Christmas Dinner for immigrant day laborers at the Eastlake YMCA. Isvia also is an active volunteer in the Raza Film class, where she regularly mentors students and is a regular at the weekly Homies Dinners at the Eastlake YMCA.

For Norma Vasquez, Mondays start early. She wakes up at 6 o’clock to arrive at the corner of San Leandro and High by 7, where hungry day laborers are lined up for breakfast. Only when they are fed, does Norma head off to Mandela High School, where she is a junior. Norma’s motivation for starting the breakfast program came from learning about the Black Panther movement of the 1960s and the struggle of immigrants.

Cruz calls Norma “an unsung (s)hero. She is very quiet, but extremely hard working and dedicated to improving her community.”

This spring Isvia was one of seven adult chaperones for two dozen students on a life-changing trip to the U.S./Mexico border. There, students and adults alike learned about the plight of immigrants. Both Isvia and Norma are putting those lessons to good work back at the Urban Services.

“We are very proud to have two such dedicated, passionate volunteers to celebrate as our 2010 volunteers of the year,” said Tovi Scruggs, executive director, Urban Services YMCA.

Urban Services Raza Trip

Urban Services Raza Trip

US Youth Explore Their Heritage and Gain Inspiration for Their Future

A group of 25 youth from Fremont and Castlemont High Schools saw the lessons they learned in their Raza History Film class come to life when they visited the US/Mexico border, toured community, youth-based programs, and met with Latino university students. When they boarded three vans for the five-day trip, it was the first time many of the students had traveled out of Alameda County.

The trip was about exposing them to places and lifestyles outside of Oakland. Every stop on our trip reinforced our class discussions about drugs, violence, education, immigration, and the importance of social justice.

The Power of Unity and Education

Accompanied by seven staff and volunteer chaperones, the group covered a lot of ground. At Barrios Unidos in Santa Cruz, the youth got to screen print their own “Una Familia” (one family) shirts. The shirts were designed by US Graffiti/Urban Arts student Jeanette Vargas, a junior at Fremont High School. In Los Angeles, they toured Homeboy Industries/Home Girl Café, a gang intervention program for at-risk youth and gang members. There, the youth were amazed to find out that the counselors leading the tour were ex-gang members who had gone through the program themselves. Before hitting the road again, the youth met and posed for a photo with Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries.

The group spent a night at the MeCha house on the CSU Northridge campus. They listened to a panel of MeChista students share their own experiences of navigating through the educational system and personal obstacles that stood in their way. The next day, they talked with a panel of all Latino students at the UCLA School of Law, many of whom grew up in areas like East LA, Richmond and Oakland. Their powerful stories were a great source of inspiration for our youth, many of whom had lost hope in their futures.

"A lot of students need to go to universities to see the way of life a college student. Yeah, teachers and people tell you to go to college, but you have to actually see it and experience it to understand what it means for us as Latino students from Oakland to make it to college,” said Ricardo Cruz, a 10th grader at Castlemont High School.

Chicano Pride on Display

Students from UC San Diego’s Multicultural Center—among them a student from Oakland who grew up in the same neighborhood as several of our students—hosted the group in that city. They also got to know some local students from Lincoln High School and educator Kiki Ochoa.

For several months now, the youth group had been actively engaged in dreaming about reclaiming Oakland’s public parks for the community. They got to see how a similar dream became real in San Diego’s Chicano Park. Seeing the murals depicting Latino cultural images with an emphasis on positive social change was like heaven for them.

And of course, we barbequed and enjoyed the beautiful beaches. Ray Chavez, photographer for the Oakland Tribune, joined us in San Diego to document the group’s time in Southern California.

The Impact of the Border

Some of the group traveled to Tijuana, which proved to be an emotional experience. Juan Segura, an 11th grader at Castlemont High School, explained, “I have documents, while other people, for example my family and friends, do not. This allows me to have certain privileges which others do not have. Going on this trip showed me what my people have to go through at the border. They get harassed and even killed just for trying to find a better life.”

Also in Tijuana, students visited Casa YMCA, a facility that serves youth who live in the area or who have tried to cross into the United States. Our students talked with youth who live at Casa YMCA, learned their life stories and their dreams of finding a better life “up north” in the US. They also visited a migrant home, called Casa de Emigrante, which serves as a stop for people trying to get into the US. These homes help out with shelter, food, showers and a place to sleep and rest for many migrants who have nothing more than the shirt on their back.

The Home of a Hero

On the road home, the group stopped at the La Paz/Cesar Chavez Cultural Center in Keene, California. This was once the United Farm Worker’s headquarters and is now the final resting place for Cesar Chavez’s body. The students toured the center, museum, gallery and saw the home where Cesar Chavez lived. Most importantly, they got to pay their respects to one of their heroes.

The group returned home, tired but energized. The trip was not only educational and cultural, it exposed our youth to life outside of Oakland. They learned how to travel and have fun in a safe and positive way. Visiting universities and gang-intervention programs inspired our youth to change their lives around by making positive choices.

Natalie Lizardo-Sarellano, Intervention Support Services



Lakeshore Park was jumping on April 17, not to mention dancing, running and walking. The Urban Services YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day celebration drew hundreds of participants, who experienced firsthand the benefits of being active, eating nutritious foods and looking after their health.

The Fun Zone offered people the chance to run an obstacle course or chill out with a yoga session. Kids played with a bubble machine and graffiti was encouraged—on T-shirts. Participants painted a mural and had their faces painted. The Emeryville Ravens, a Pop Warner League football team, put future running backs through their paces. And everyone was invited to participate in a walk-a-thon around Lake Merritt. A DJ and a band made up of students from the East Oakland School of the Arts kept everyone moving to the beat of music that mixed up old school and new sounds.

 The best thing about the day, according to Faris Wallace, Urban Services YMCA’s Performance Management Director, “was people coming together to get it all done. This was really community-driven and very empowering.” The event was planned and staffed by Urban Services staff and volunteers.

 The Alameda County Department of Public Health staffed a mobile clinic, where people could get their blood pressure, cholesterol and HIV status checked. Chiropractors, and massage therapists screened and soothed people’s aching backs. There was even a dentist on hand offering mini-check-ups.

 Thirty-two vendors set up booths offering more hands-on activities ranging from making compost to making necklaces out of pasta. And to keep people’s energy up, Whole Food Foods and Jamba Juice provided healthful snacks and beverages.

A big thank you to all Healthy Kids Day sponsors, service providers and volunteers. We couldn’t have done it without you. See you next year!

Model Legislature Passes Two Bills Proposed by Urban Services YMCA Delegation

The 18-member Urban Services delegation wrote and won passage of two bills at the 62nd annual Model Legislature and Court Program in Sacramento this year. Both bills would generate funds to help youth learn the skills to lead productive lives.

The first bill taxed corporations that use prison labor to produce goods or deliver services. The money raised would be used to fund gang intervention programs. The second bill raised funds to lower student fees in the University of California and California State University systems by levying a 1.5% tax on tickets for professional sports events.

“Our goal going into the 2010 Youth & Government Program was to get two bills passed. We’re especially happy that the two bills reflect the needs and concerns of urban youth in particular,” said Marisol Rodriguez, one of three advisors to the delegation.

The Urban Services delegation, which brings together students from both public and private high schools in Oakland, spent six months preparing at weekly meetings and two preliminary conferences held in Central California. Bishop O’Dowd High School was represented by:, Demetria Brown, Danilo Juarez, Nicola Keenan, Adarious Payton, Jade Robinson, Alexis Stuckey, and Ciarra Waters-Mullen.

Students from Mandela High School included: Yesica Alejandre, Rubi Castillo, Kimberly Guzman, Mariela Lara, Danny Lopez, Julio Madrigal, Salvador Mateo, Marisol Roque and Stephanie Zambrano. Media High School student Juan Ramos also participated.

Their months of preparation led to a weekend in Sacramento. There, 2,500 students from across the state took over the actual chambers of the State Supreme Court, Assembly and Senate to do the work of state government, and published a daily newspaper to cover all the developments.

"I am looking forward to working in the field of law and this program gives me a sense of what it is like to work in government,” said Julio Madrigal.

Delegate Rubi Castillo learned that, "In order to make a difference, you should get involved in these programs because you can share your ideas as a minority.”

If you would like to learn more about this truly life-changing experience, please read the program description or contact us.

Urban Services' Raza Club featured in Oakland Tribune

Urban Services' Raza Club featured in Oakland Tribune

article taken from www.insidebayarea.com

Joaquin, a teenager with family gang connections, a love for Aztec dance and a gripping fear of premature death, saw a shivering day laborer one morning and forgot about his own troubles.

"I seen him and I talked to him, but he was kind of scared of me, and I asked him if he was cold, and he told me yeah, and I seen his face and his face was pink, and I was like, 'Damn, this dude freezing,' and he only had one shirt on and he was like this and he was shaking, and I was like, 'You want my sweater?' and he was all, 'Aw, please, thank you so much,' and so I took it off. He put it on and he was all 'Thanks, man, God bless.'

"I didn't really care about me getting cold cause I got more than a sweater, you know, I got a house, I got a bed, I got some blankets, I got people who love me, and he was out there with one T-shirt on, so I don't know. It just felt cool giving it to him."

The room was quiet as Joaquin, 16, whose real name was concealed for his protection, spoke. Boys in baggy jeans and oversize hoodies, girls in skinny jeans with manicured eyebrows — they just listened. They are all part of Raza Club, a group of teenagers who come together to learn about Latino history and social justice, to share their personal struggles and grief, to lend a hand to someone in need and, maybe, to start a movement to change Oakland.

As the sun rises on Monday mornings, you can find them huddled on the noisy, exhaust-choked corner of High and San Leandro streets, handing out warm clothing and asking day laborers if they want leche with their cafe — a service project that started in late November.


And once a week, after dark, dozens of kids will cross gang lines to convene a weekly gathering they call "Homies Dinner" at the Eastlake YMCA. It's organized by Cesar Cruz, a Y staffer who also teaches an after-school Raza History through Film class twice a week at Castlemont and Fremont high schools. Raza Club started this fall and has grown to include about 85 teenagers from a dozen middle and high schools, as well as school dropouts.

Oakland is perhaps best known for its large African-American community, but Latino youth now form the largest ethnic group in the city's public schools, about 37 percent. Many live in neighborhoods rocked by violence and crime, on blocks dominated by Nortenos, Surenos or Border Brothers, rival Latino gangs.

"Who's sick of funerals?" Cruz asked at Homies Dinner this month. "It's like, this ain't a joke, you might get shot tonight. How will you be remembered?"

Cruz didn't exaggerate. Two days later, Antonio Nunez, 16, a boy he had invited to the history class, was shot dead in front of his house, a shooting police say was likely carried out by gang members.

Cruz says most Raza Club teens have ties to gang members or are in gangs, themselves, but that they have agreed to respect one another, regardless of their affiliations. Cruz urges them to reject violence and destruction, but he doesn't explicitly discourage gang membership; he says he sees gangs as an extension of family and a "survival mechanism."

But Juanita Estrella, 12, whose honey-colored hair hung down the back of her middle school polo shirt, said Raza Club has changed her thinking on gangs, too.

"What's the point of banging something when there's no need for it? Why you trying to bring violence in the world?" she mused, as a group of kids returned from a short field trip to Corazon del Pueblo, a shop on International and 48th Avenue filled with crafts and posters of the likes of Frida Kahlo, Che Guevara and Pedro Infante.

"I'm just trying to stay away from the gangs and trying to live my life, as a kid," Juanita said.

Living life as a kid can be harder than it looks. At Homies Dinner that night, the group watched old video clips of the Brown Berets, a Latino activist group akin to the Black Panthers, and talked about ways to make their neighborhoods healthier and more peaceful. Then Cruz invited them to pray aloud for people in their lives.

One after another, their voices faltering, they offered up their prayers: for a father, whose alcohol abuse is tearing the family apart, a friend's sister who survived a serious gunshot wound, a relative going blind from diabetes, a mother with an immigration hearing scheduled two days before Christmas.

Joaquin asked everyone to pray for him. He had received death threats, he said, and he wasn't ready to die.

"I want to be somebody in this world."

Before dispersing into the night, they formed a circle and began to clap. Slowly, at first, and then faster and faster. Loud.

"Y'all could change Oakland, y'all," Cruz told them that night. "Y'all could make history. One day when I'm studying the next whomever, I'm going to be studying about Ricardo. I'm going to be studying about Norma. I'm going to be studying about Daniel. About Gardenia, Adrian. Mercedes.

"What we got in common is we're all going to die, I don't know when. But my question to you is how are you going to live your life? Now, who wants to make a change in the Town?"


Dare 2 Dream Attempts to Tackle Declining Youth Employment

Dare 2 Dream Attempts to Tackle Declining Youth Employment

  The need for summer pre-employment training for young minority youth is critical. According to a study conducted by Northwestern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, the summer job market for the nation’s teens has deteriorated substantially over the past five years.  Nationwide, the teen summer employment rate in 2004 was the lowest since World War II.  Unfortunately, the summer of 2005 tied the summer of 2004 for the lowest employment rate for teens on record.  Across racial/ethnic groups, there was a substantial difference in the employment rates of White and Black teens in the summer of 2005. The employment rate for White teens was 40.5%, nearly double the employment rate for Black teens (22.4%).  In fact, according to the study, Black teens have experienced their lowest employment rates since the severe recessionary years of the early 1980s. 
  The Urban Services YMCA's Dare 2 Dream program is a summer apprenticeship program that addresses the pre-employment and job training needs for the most under-served youth in Oakland ages 14-18. It insists to expose youth to career possibilities and professionals in their areas of interest, teaches them valuable pre-employment and life skills including goal setting, resume development, interviewing, job search and networking skills, and provides high-quality apprenticeship experiences which allow youth to fully explore career interests and develop valuable work-related skills. 
  Weekly classroom workshop topics include goal setting, career planning, working with academic counselors, determining which classes to take in school to support career interests, an introduction to college options, and job search techniques.  In addition to building pre-employment and soft skills, students receive broad exposure to related career options. Field trips to work place environments and practical exercises to build writing skills deepens teens’ learning experiences.
  Each program area, which varies from areas of culinary arts and media production, provides youth with classroom-based learning and actual work experiences. For example, students produced and recorded a CD, recorded and edited video shoots, became certified YMCA coaches and referees and received training to become certified camp staff.
  In the current economy which makes it hard to obtain a job, it is critical that teens are exposed to career options and the skills necessary to compete in the job market and build a successful career.

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