FRESNO, Calif. – 22 year-old Monica Silva spent her summer honing her leadership skills as she worked with youth at her church to fight the prevalence of alcohol advertising in their southeast Fresno, Calif., neighborhood.
The youth advocated for less advertising with a Fresno city councilman and talked directly to store owners who sell liquor about how to make their stores more family friendly. They also educated people about the correlation between increased violence and the amount of liquor stores in the community.
The experience gave Silva, a criminology major at California State University Fresno, the opportunity to do two things she wanted -- make a difference in the community where she lives and attends church, and learn about leadership in a very practical way.
She gained this experience as a participant in West Coast Mennonite Central Committee’s Summer Service program, a paid internship for young people of color, ages 18-30. The program, which is accepting applications now for 2015, is for those who want to develop their leadership skills while serving in their churches or community organizations during the summer.
Her leadership mentor was Yammilette Rodriguez, co-pastor of the Mennonite Brethren church, United Faith Christian Fellowship Church (UFCF), which Silva attends. Rodriguez is also director of Youth Leadership Institute, a youth development organization.
“This experience changed me,” Silva said. “It opened my eyes to things I never noticed around my neighborhood. I feel empowered by the things I have learned this summer -- to speak up for the needs in my community.”
Silva worked together with other young adult leaders, Janet Saucedo and Cinthia Gordillo, and the church youth who had already formed a group called SouthEast Neighborhood Transformation Team (SENT), which is a Friday Night Live Chapter. The goal of SENT is to empower youth to address social issues that affect young people in their communities.
Last summer, SENT focused on the prevalence of alcohol advertising in the 35 liquor stores within a mile of Roosevelt High School, which is in the church’s neighborhood.
“There’s a saturation of messages about alcohol in this neighborhood,” said Saucedo, who was quoted in the Christian Leader, the U.S. Mennonite Brethren newsletter. Advertisements for alcohol are part of an environment that contributes to unhealthy choices. Changing the environment can help people make healthier choices, said the Fresno Pacific University political science major.
To that end, SENT met with Fresno City political leaders to recommend that stores reduce alcohol and tobacco advertising in store window. As a result, one city councilman promised to work on updating the law to tighten enforcement and restrict signage.
At a town hall meeting that SENT planned, Silva was one of the main presenters sharing research about the impact of violence within a community with higher percentages of liquor stores. The meeting was attended by community leaders, elected officials, church members and neighborhood residents.
The youth also talked with liquor store owners, urging them to comply with the legal amount of advertising. The youth recommended that owners place food, fresh fruits, and family-friendly products in the front of the store and move the alcohol behind the store counter.
They also asked store owners to sign a pledge to have their businesses be a community friendly store, to abide by the law and not to sell alcohol to minors. Seven store owners within the church neighborhood agreed.
Silva, who is now co-youth director at UFCF, said she learned through her Summer Service experience that leadership is about partnership. “You can’t be leader without making a connection with the people you are serving,” Silva said. “You need to be able to empathize with them.”
To learn more about how your church or faith-based organization can partner with MCC’s Summer Service program this year, visit mcc.org/summer-service.