Every day, in one of America’s most prosperous cities, young people struggle to succeed, but encounter insufficient resources. Young people in Watts and South Central Los Angeles, in particular, lead very different lives from their more affluent peers only a few miles away. Their potential is blocked, in part, by a grave lack of recreational opportunities to expand their intellectual and social horizons. Additionally, these young people have limited awareness of external environments, resulting in a lack of cultural sensitivity that further limits their ability to be future leaders in one of the most diverse economies in the world.
Youth Trek: Learning through Exposure offers an innovative, efficient, and cost-effective approach to transforming this situation by increasing cultural awareness. Youth Trek presents at-risk youth, ages 9 to 17, with unique and significant opportunities to experience other cultures; to practice responsible behavior; to participate as citizens in their own communities; and to learn life-long skills that will help them to avoid starting down a path of crime, violence, and drug abuse.
The pilot Youth Tour, held in July 2000, was highly successful. Prior to the departure, twenty-six at-risk youth learned specific computer skills that would enable them to update the Youth Tour website with tour highlights on a daily basis. These young people ventured across country via motor coach – farther from home than any had ever been – with twelve chaperons that tracked their daily whereabouts and addressed educational and health/safety needs. Each day, the young people completed writing assignments that documented their experiences and reactions. By the time they returned home 24 days later, they had visited 29 states, plus the District of Columbia – and been changed forever.
Further evaluation of the pilot Youth Tour showed that tour participants demonstrated higher self-esteem and self-respect, and were appreciably more self-confident in both familiar and unfamiliar environments. Additionally, they had developed valuable long-term competencies, including teamwork, life skills, and the ability to navigate social relationships with those of different races and backgrounds. The program name was changed to Youth Trek, thanks to feedback from the participants.
Based on the great success of the pilot tour, Youth Trek developed a three-year plan. The plan projects serving 43 participants in the 1st year and 86 participants in both the 2nd and 3rd years. Buses will transport 30 students and 10 chaperons each, and there will be one mentor for every three students during each of the tours. Classroom training will be used to familiarize youth with the program and with what will be expected of them, and to discuss the history of the tour sites and points of interest. This pre-travel time will also be instrumental in teaching participants how to use computers and digital cameras in order to maintain and update the website documenting the tour.
Our philosophy is simple. Through Youth Trek, committed adults can serve as role models and instill strong values and a sense of pride in these young people. We provide them with ambassadorship training, enabling them to communicate confidently with those from other backgrounds. We work with them to improve their grades through exposure and learning experiences; and we assist them in their making positive life choices and building