When 7th grader Noah Cabrera is not busy doing his homework, he can often be found stopping fire-setting villains by spinning violently in circles to create a funnel that extinguishes the flames. Noah Cabrera is Tornado Man.
But even superheroes need mentors, and Tornado Man’s mentor is Catman, who is there for him through thick and thin, much like the “huddle counselors” who have been there for Cabrera and the more than 300 other students who are attending Sharefest’s Summer Youth Development Academy (YDA) July 11 through Aug. 5. Now in its 10th year on the California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) campus, YDA offers two to four weeks of outdoor fun combined with academic, wellness, leadership, and community service workshops to youth from underserved communities in the South Bay.
Cabrera created his superhero alter ego and his mentor Catman during a YDA leadership session, which involved the students writing and illustrating their own comic books as a way of examining their own abilities to become a source of “positive change” in their communities.
“Catman is my mentor, he is always there for Tornado man,” said Cabrera, a San Pedro resident who attends Dodson Middle School in Los Angeles. “I learned today that you should value your mentors—the people who are always there to help and protect you.”
In other sessions, the middle school students experienced the “challenges and rewards” of working on a service-focused project. They were also exposed to the concepts and relevance of Newton’s Laws to community development. The high school students are spending four weeks at the YDA in such sessions as the “Theatre Arts for Positive Change,” in which they produce and perform a theatrical presentation highlighting how social change is needed in society. They are also learning social media theory and techniques, and how its various platforms may be used to advocate change.
“Sharefest is convinced that youth have amazing ideas and passion for improving their communities. Unfortunately, too often they experience the marginalization of their voices and ideas,” said Brenda Chance, associate director for Sharefest community development. “Through our Summer Youth Development Academy, we hope that our students are inspired to connect their academic journey with the leadership opportunities existing in the places where they live and learn.”
YMCA Youth Summer Camps
The YDA is one of a few programs that have brought youth to CSUDH during the summer months. They include the YMCA Youth Summer Camps, on campus each Tuesday from June 14 to Aug. 9 to provide underserved students already in YMCA summer programs fun activities, such as playing tennis and participating in games in the university’s Sculpture Garden.
During the day, the 10- to 14-year-old students have been taking part in classroom breaks, where CSUDH alumni, faculty, staff, and others share aspects of their lives and careers to encourage and motivate them in a positive way. Among the nine speakers who have participated are Matt Smith, director of Educational Partnerships at CSUDH, LAPD officer Irvin Pereira (’14, B.A., criminal justice), and alumna Chardae Jenkins (’13, B.A., communications), who founded The Transparency Agency in 2015, a public relations firm based in Los Angeles.
Alumnus Jason Grant (’06, B.A., human services), a detention service officer for the Los Angeles County Probation Department, shared what it was like for him growing up in Compton, his time as a CSUDH student living in Student Housing, and his work at as a detention service officer.
“After I got their attention, I gave them some nuggets to take home with them and draw from later,” said Grant. “I try to be a little comical to break the ice and make them comfortable enough open up. I want them to know that if they set their minds to something that they can achieve it.”