It has been said that any youth development program is really a leadership development program. Any time we are investing in kids and young people, we are tapping into their potential and helping them grow skills for the future. While it might look different depending on the needs of each person and the goals of the program, ultimately we want to help young people achieve more than they thought they could.
One of the benchmarks of success for our kids’ programs is that we see them moving into areas of leadership in the community and taking steps of confidence in areas like education, job training, and volunteering. Maybe the best indicator that we are on the right track is when students who have been in our programs want to come back and lead with us!
Gustavo is one of those success stories. After almost ten years of involvement with Ciudad Nueva, he will be joining our staff this fall as the middle school and high school coordinator.
The First Seeds of Leadership are Planted.
Gustavo first got involved with Ciudad Nueva as a third grader. At the time, his family was experiencing some difficulty. His father had been deported to Mexico and his family was left to figure things out on their own. Naturally, Gustavo was affected by his father’s absence and his behavior at school and home began to be a problem. His school counselor suggested that he attend Ciudad Nueva.
The Launch Pad program turned out to be just what Gustavo needed. Within the next few years, most of Gustavo’s friends were in the Launch Pad program too. He continued to go because it was fun and he found the leaders to be a good influence. That was especially true of his own mentor, John.
John became a true mentor to Gustavo. He was a volunteer with the program, and he spent time getting to know Gustavo, showing him what it is like to make good choices, and helping him believe that he could be successful.
“John was a great influence and I wanted to be like him,” says Gustavo. “I saw how he volunteered, and all the things that he did, and that he cared about me.”
Growing a Leader Through Mentoring.
In the Kids Create middle school program, Gustavo experienced new leaders and new adventures. He went to camp for the first time in New Mexico (his first time traveling outside of El Paso!). He enjoyed meeting all sorts of new people.
“It gave me a family,” says Gustavo. “Instead of being destructive or doing bad things, I would come to Kids Create. We would have fun and be crazy, but in a safe environment.”
The leaders in the Kids Create Middle School Program are younger than the mentors in Launch Pad—usually college age. During this time, Gustavo met the next leader who mentored and shaped him.
Lindsey became a leader in Kids Create when Gustavo was in seventh grade and ended up working with him all the way through high school.
“She always had really great conversations with us,” says Gustavo. “It was really fun because we would all hang out and get to know each other. We were all at different places, but she made it really comfortable to open up. We always knew we wouldn’t be rejected or judged.”
Not only that, Gustavo recognized that being part of Kids Create and Young Life helped keep him away from a lot of the influences that other kids at school were struggling with.
“It kept me away from all of that,” says Gustavo. “A lot of things like drugs, alcohol, and gangs can seem attractive to a typical high schooler. It helped so much to have a place to go where I could be involved in other things.”
The Fruits of Our Labor
During his sophomore year of high school, Gustavo started volunteering a little bit. Then in his junior year, he started going every day to help out with the middle school program.
“I wanted to do what people did for me,” says Gustavo. “I wanted to give back because it had been such a great experience for me. It was amazing getting to know the middle schoolers. I really enjoyed it.”
By his senior year of high school, Young Life offered him a part time internship. Many of the experiences of the last two years helped him grow as a leader. He learned to be a good listener to all the middle school students and to help them have the confidence to deal with their struggles.
“I got really close to one of the boys I was working with,” says Gustavo. “He was struggling with turning in his homework and so he lost his spot at camp that year. He was really disappointed. I helped him understand that he needed to be more responsible, but it was really hard.”
Through the exciting and the tough experiences volunteering with Young Life, Gustavo feels like he learned good communication, confidence, and empathy. All of these are life skills that will serve his goals for the future.
Next Step Leadership
After his graduation, Ciudad Nueva offered Gustavo a part time position while he attends UTEP this fall. He will coordinate the middle and high school programs.
His goals for his new job include helping the incoming freshmen get integrated into the program and receiving training in the areas in which he needs to grow. He also wants to work on communication with all the leaders and volunteers so both programs continue to run smoothly.
“I also want to focus on mentoring,” says Gustavo. “I want to guide the students through to where I am now. In the future, they can be doing what I am doing. The program we have creates a lot of good leaders. We want them to stay with us.”
That is exactly what we were hoping for!