Story originally published on the W.K. Kellogg Foundation website.
A youth curfew? Hope Alvarado, a junior at the University of New Mexico wasn’t having it.
After a spate of youth violence in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city council member proposed a youth curfew, a policy previously deemed unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court.
Hope had lost a friend to violence in the past year. She firmly believed that a curfew would hurt young people working late or experiencing homelessness.
Through her summer internship at the New Mexico Youth Alliance, a local advocacy group, Alvarado had learned the importance of getting youth involved in issues that affected them. She also connected with others who felt the same. One of her projects focused on determining the reasons youth felt disconnected from the community and how those sentiments could lead to school dropout or run-ins with the law.
Alvarado’s internship was one of 89 positions provided through the Youth Employment Summer (YES!) Institute, a program that places young people ages 14-24 at paid internships with civic organizations in New Mexico. The program, managed by the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP), provides trainings and meetings that coach youth on everything from resume writing to leadership development.
“At SWOP, we believe young people are the solution, not the problem. One of the key things we’re trying to do through the program is to invest in our emerging leaders by giving students the skills necessary to shape the future of New Mexico.”
The internships have already impacted some of the participants’ life choices. Cecilia Frescas Ortiz, a recent college graduate, is among them. Walking the halls of her old high school, Frescas Ortiz feels much has changed in the past four years since leaving home.
Frescas Ortiz, who participated in the YES! program, interned at Generation Justice, where she helped produce a radio show and blog posts on issues like school discipline reform and health care access. She recently returned to her old high school as a curriculum coordinator to help teachers integrate lessons on progressive values into classes and mentor students to apply those principles to their lives.
After her YES! program experience, Frescas Ortiz said it has been somewhat challenging to work through the school system to change things, as change can be slow. If nothing else, though, the internship has given her more drive to continue working on issues she cares about.
“It’s been pivotal for me to become involved and realize what I should be fighting for. I think a lot of it has to do with my own experience as a young, undocumented woman of color from a low-income community,” she said. “Social justice is not just about social justice [for all] but something I have to do for myself and those around me.”