My name is Bella Vidaña and I am the JCIT Program Coordinator. I believe that the JCIT program is a hidden gem at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs. Our JCITs, which stands for Junior Counselors-in-Training, are a group of ninth graders who have dedicated every day of the week to leadership development, peer mentoring, civic engagement and self-expression in a variety of ways. We are located on the top floor of St. Augustine and St. Martin in a space that feels more like a living room and home than it does a temporary, two-hour, hangout space. It has become a safe haven for many, including myself.
Within these walls we speak of current events, our passions, what we like and what we do not like, who we are and what we strive to be. We speak of diversity, our differences and our commonalities. We speak of how we can continue to be a better global citizen both in the local communities around us and the communities that may be far but dear to our hearts, including our home countries. And last but not least, we have created a space where everyone feels comfortable enough to be themselves.
How have we created this type of space, you ask? We have created this space by implementing and participating in activities that encourage a deeper knowledge of the topics mentioned above that may not be discussed in schools or at the home. Most recently, the JCITs participated in an activity called Take a Stand. As I read aloud a number of statements that involved race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, differently abled, and religion, the ninth graders had the choice to move to four different corners labeled Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. They were then given the opportunity to vocally express why they were standing in the corners they chose if they felt comfortable sharing. Through this activity they were provided the chance to think and discuss topics that they may have never thought about or discussed. They were also given a chance to stand up for social and global issues they believe in, which I have found to be one of the most vital parts of youth development.
From the start of program on September 26th until now, I have seen a growth in my ninth graders that I appreciate an endless amount. We are a small army of around eight but we are fierce and we will only get stronger from here on out. If you are reading this and you are a ninth grader or know of a ninth grader that you think will benefit from this program, we will welcome you or them with open arms and lots of smiles and laughs.
If you would like to learn more about the JCIT Program at St. Stephen’s, contact JCIT Program Coordinator, Bella Vidaña, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Bella Vidaña, JCIT Coordinator