U.S. Department of State Youth Program

This July, the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council hosted Jóvenes en Acción (Youth in Action) for its third consecutive summer. Jóvenes en Acción is an exchange program in the United States for Mexican high school students focusing on civic education, community service, and youth leadership development. Students are selected for the program from cities across Mexico through an application process reviewed by the Mexican Secretary of Public Education and the U.S. Department of State and come to the United States with the goal to refine community projects they previously created in Mexico.

Fourteen students and one chaperone arrived in Pensacola this year as a part of a four week national program. Students were paired with host families which provided teens and locals the opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures and family lives. Their itinerary for their 13 days in town was split into four categories: volunteer activities, workshops, social activities, and engaged meetings. As a result, each day was filled with activities from several categories.

Early in the project, the students had a welcome orientation at Pensacola City Hall with Laurie Murphy and Councilwoman Sherri Myers to learn about local environmental issues and local government. They also attended a meeting at the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce where Vice President Todd Thomson highlighted how chambers of commerce work with entrepreneurs. A business plan workshop at Co:Lab with Director of Entrepreneurial Development Kelly Reeser highlighted entrepreneurship as a way to strengthen communities, and a leadership compass workshop helped the students identify their own leadership styles.

Time was also set aside for a project planning workshop, volunteering with Zachary Schang of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and taking a site visit at the Interim Materials Recycling Facility of the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority to explore the impact of recycling on a community with Jim Roberts. They learned about the elections process with a hands-on meeting with Sonya Daniel of the Escambia Supervisor of Elections Office, and focused on social entrepreneurship through a visit with Celeste Southyard of Appetite 4 Life. The young leaders met with Kyle Schoolar, the volunteer manager at Feeding the Gulf Coast, and then spent time with United Way of Escambia County where they had a fundraising discussion with Interim CEO Laura Hill, Leadership Giving Director Jay Evans, Director of Communications and Outreach Jon Potrzeba, and Volunteer Manager Brooke Policicchio. They engaged in a cross-cultural communication activity, took a tour of the University of West Florida, and discussed student-led university environmental research with Dr. Wade Jeffery. Former Councilwoman Maren DeWeese volunteered several hours to work with the students during a student-led mock local government meeting, and all of these activities were complimented by a series of public-speaking workshops which were interwoven throughout the two weeks.

Dr. Lusharon Wiley of the University of West Florida hosted a round table discussion with the Common Ground Diversity and Inclusion Training Group, and Grace McCaffery shared some of her life experiences with the group and led the students in conversation about how to make their projects inclusive and open to all for participation. A workshop with Marty Stanovich of the First Tee of Northwest Florida also emphasized character and leadership development.

On their final programming day, the young leaders visited Escambia Boys Base (EBB) where they met Director of Operations William Freeman and Superintendent Oliver Jones. EBB is a moderate risk, six to nine months residential halfway house program located on an active military installation. The program serves males between the ages of 14-18, with emphasis on 17 year olds and above. Active military personnel as well as group involvement and day-to-day contact with active duty military provide one-on-one mentoring from all branches of the armed services. This visit gave the students at EBB the chance to learn more about Mexico and provided a volunteer & public speaking opportunity for the Jóvenes en Acción group.

The Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council thanks everyone who contributed to this program, and we extend a special thank you to all our host families for without them, this program would not have been possible. David & Jennifer Clarke, Kent & Leigh DeSantis, Laura Ericson & Stephanie Karous, David & Laurie Kreuser, Theresa Northern, Bruce & Beth Partington, Jerry & Megan Pratt, Ben & Magali Posey, Julie Tippins Parker, & Jeannine Van Reeth, we appreciate your enthusiasm, generous spirits, and warm hearts!