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Staff Spotlight: Gerald and Judy

Welcome to Staff Spotlight! This month focuses on Judy and Gerald, the Youth Program Advocates from Proyecto Juventud.

Gerald grew up in Chicago in the Edgewater Neighborhood and moved to Skokie as a teenager. As the son of immigrants from the Phillippines, Gerald decided to study International Studies and Womenand Gender Studies at Loyola University. Drawn to Mujeres’ mission, he joined Proyecto Juventud as an intern. When he learned that Mujeres was going to hold a Jóvenes con Palabra group for young men, Gerald knew he wanted to be part of this new chapter in Proyecto Juventud. Gerald had worked for years creating men’s circles for grade school to college aged males that involved discussions of healthy masculinity and identity. “Men have an important role as allies and can work alongside women to address violence against women and gender equality,” said Gerald, regarding his motivation for joining.

Judy, also a Chicago native, was born and raised in Pilsen. Judy’s Ecuadorian heritage is an important part of her life now, but growing up she had “no sense of my own identity and pride in the identities I held.” When Judy went away for school, to the University of Michigan, her eyes were opened to the importance of self-identity. She decided to work with other, first generation college students like herself to prepare them for the transition between high school and college. A Bachelor’s Degree in Women’s Studies and Public Health focused her desire to empower young Latina women and their families and raise consciousness about health.  She returned to Chicago to reconnect and immerse herself in the Latino community where she grew up.

As Youth Program Advocates, Judy and Gerald create programs and conversations that challenge andencourage teens in Proyecto Juventud. Now a program for both teenage boys and girls, Proyecto Juventud creates a space where teens have access to mentors like Judy and Gerald and can learn from each other. “In Proyecto Juventud, we provide teens with the tools to help themselves,” says Gerald, “We have envisioned so many great things for them, like graduating high school and college andbecoming young leaders. Our job is to get the teens to envision this future for themselves and make it happen.” Proyecto Juventud’s focus on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is one way that Judy and Gerald are exposing teens to new careers in areas where Latinos are underrepresented.

The teens of Proyecto Juventud inspire Judy and Gerald and encourage them to keep on learning anddeveloping new programming for the group. Judy, who oversees the sexual education component of Proyecto Juventud, tries to make it a space welcoming for all teens. One teen that Judy is especially proud of, opened a lot of conversations through sharing thoughts on gender identity and preferred gender pronouns. “We deal with a lot of adult questions, because our teens are grappling with these topics as well,” says Judy, “The issues that are important to one person become important to the whole group because there is this mutual respect and compassion.”

Proyecto Juventud’s focus on cultural identity and cultural esteem helps students understand where you come from and how they’ve been influenced by their culture. Maria*, a freshman at a selective enrollment school, has been in Proyecto Juventud for the past three years. Although seemingly shy,Gerald describes Maria as “a quiet storm. When she speaks, she has a presence that grasps the room.” As a student at a prestigious high school, Maria is navigating atmosphere as Latina and how she fits in with student population that doesn’t reflect her own identity.

Judy and Gerald provided general advice for teens.  “You are going to make mistakes. We penalize people, but making mistakes in an opportunity to learn. You are learning and growing. Adulthood doesn’t mean that you have it all together,” advises Gerald.  Judy focused on the connections that can be made through opening up, “Vulnerability is not weakness; it can be empowering. Don’t be scared to share what you are going through and open up. If someone is showing vulnerability, it took a lot of courage to get there.”

To learn more about Proyecto Juventud, check out the website and Facebook page. Proyecto Juventud is always looking for volunteers to share ideas and expertise. Check out our Volunteer page to see how you can get involved. ​

*Name has been changed to protect identity

February 19, 2015 | 3:49 PM