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Volunteers needed for summer youth leadership program

Youths participating in the Dream Catcher Youth Leadership Summer Program work on a project together at the Barn at Corabelle, near Iona. The kids meet weekly for leadership training and other activities. (submitted photo)

WORTHINGTON -- A dream catcher is a protective charm used by Native American peoples; it is purported to filter out all the bad dreams and only allow good thoughts to enter the mind.

That image seemed appropriate when one of the participants suggested “Dream Catchers” as a name for a youth leadership program initiated by Familias Juntas, the local organization that works with immigrant children. Familias Juntas was founded to help children meet for the first time their extended families in Guatemala; it was the subject of a documentary film by native Guatemalan director Luis Argueta that shed light on the immigration system and separation of families.

The summer program is an extension of that effort, explained project coordinator Lisa Kremer.

“In May, I made a trip to Washington, D.C., with a couple of the kids from Familias Juntas for a showing of ‘Abrazos’ at the Migration Policy Institute,” Kremer said. “These two girls I took along did great, but we realized we need to better equip them, give them tools to be advocates for their families, so they feel more comfortable doing so.”

At the invitation-only screening of the film, there were many people representing organizations involved with immigration policy, and they made a connection with Wendy Cervantes, vice president of immigration and child rights for First Focus.

“First Focus is a national organization that works to support the best interests of children, especially children of immigrants,” explained Kremer. “They are doing a PSA (public service announcement) campaign right now about stories of immigrant children, and we agreed to support them in that. In turn, they gave us a little grant money to work with our kids.”

Kremer knew the grant money needed to go toward leadership training, and the idea for the summer program was hatched.

“The idea of calling it Dream Catchers -- the kids came up with that,” credited Kremer. “We had two planning sessions, and we talked about the importance of naming and had them research their own names -- who named them, what their name meant. … One of the young men -- he’s 15 now -- said, ‘I think we should think about Dream Catchers.’ He knew about the Native American tradition, what they are and how they stop bad dreams from getting through. (He said), ‘I think that’s what we are for our families. We don’t want those bad things to happen to our families, and we want to find ways to help the good dreams come through.’

“Most of them come from families that are of indigenous people; there is that connection with indigenous Native Americans, so the tradition seems very important,” added Kremer.

On just about every Tuesday throughout the summer, 27 youths ages 9-15 board a bus and head up to the Barn at Corabelle, a property near Iona owned by Kremer and her husband, Pat. There they have planted a community garden and spend time working on that, but also engage in ecumenical prayer/worship, lessons on communication, advocacy, leadership and immigration issues, craft projects and “Dream Sessions.” Sometimes they have special guests; Rep. Rod Hamilton is scheduled to visit in July 12. Most recently, the youths have worked on displays for the upcoming International Festival in Worthington.

“It’s just a great place to be in the summertime,” said Kremer about the rural setting. “They are outside growing vegetables for their families and doing fun activities together every Tuesday.”

Kremer has recruited volunteers to oversee the youths and activities, but more help will be needed as the summer wears on.

“Some of our volunteers are doing other things this summer, have vacations coming up… so we need people willing to come out some of the weeks and help out, or for even a few hours at a time during the day,” Kremer said, noting that the volunteers must be at least 16 years of age. “They can ride the bus out with the kids if they want, out and back. There would be small group facilitation, leading games and activities -- things like that are what we are looking for. Or if people just want to provide lunch one day, that helps a lot, too.”

Stephanie Guzman, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Fulda, has been one of the volunteers in the program so far.

“... what a wonderful experience it has been to spend time with the young people at Dream Catchers,” she said in an email encouraging others to volunteer. “They have been so welcoming, enthusiastic about learning, polite and appreciative. It is amazing to watch kids this age take interest in the world around them and making it a better place, when so many (my own 9-year-old included) are focused on themselves. … It is truly a rewarding experience. If you think you do not have anything to offer, you are wrong. All you need is a smile and a heart of compassion.”

It has been several years since the original Familias Juntas trip to Guatemala, and Kremer continues to see the positive effects of the experiences on the young participants.

“Almost all of them, without exception, want to do something to help other people, whether with immigration, or they have big dreams -- wanting to be doctors and lawyers and teachers,” she said. “So that’s another part of the Dream Catcher thing is to make these dreams come true for these kids, because they do have some challenges because of their background.”

For more information on the Dream Catchers Youth Leadership Summer Program and volunteer opportunities, contact Lisa Kremer, 360-3423.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  

(507) 376-7327
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