Article by Urban Alliance staff.
Miguel Vasquez was born and raised in Hartford. Like many of his friends and family, he witnessed chaos throughout his childhood as a result of living in a neighborhood that struggles with the brokenness of poverty and that is home to some of the most violent crimes in the city.
But now, his journey is fueling his passion of helping teens and young adults to find hope and a refuge of safety right in their neighborhood.
"When statistically speaking I was meant to fail, I succeeded. I want to help other young people who are struggling in their walks of life find peace and assurance in God, who has been my guide all these years."
Last year, Miguel, a youth leader at House of Restoration Church, along with youth from his church, participated in the Youth Empowerment Institute (YEI) training facilitated by World Vision, through Urban Alliance's Next Generation initiative. The training helped strengthen their church's capacity to partner with youth in ways that lead to sustainable community transformation.
"It was eye opening to see how empowering youth to take the lead can be more meaningful," he explained. "It has enabled our ministry to shift from being solely led by youth leaders to developing and strengthening a group of young people who are able to participate in the decision-making process and initiate projects."
Following the Youth Empowerment Institute, Urban Alliance provided grant funding that helped House of Restoration integrate youth empowerment principles within their youth program.
They set off on a mission to expand recreational opportunities for the Hartford communities that have been particularly hard hit by poverty, crime and a lack of resources. They wanted to provide a free and safe place to play sports, cool off and hang out, in an effort to connect with their neighbors.
And, with the support of Miguel and the youth leaders at House of Restoration, the team of youth began planning an event that would do just that.
"I liked being a part of [Youth Empowerment Institute] since it gave me an opportunity to voice my thoughts about our youth ministry and how we could take more ownership," shared 15 year-old Marisol Vazquez.
After months of planning and preparation, their vision became a reality. On August 19, House of Restoration hosted "Summer Jam," an event that included basketball, soccer, volleyball, manicures, giveaways and a free movie screening.
"The best part was being able to play sports with the youth from the community. I see a lot of them walking around but I keep to myself since I don't know them," shared Marisol. "It was nice to get to know a few of them and learn that they enjoy playing sports like I do."
They are already looking forward to the next youth-led event.
"It was beautiful to see the young people come up to me and ask when would be the next time we could do the event since they enjoyed connecting with the community and had new creative ideas on how to advertise it," shared Miguel.
He has seen the immediate and positive effects of putting the principles learned at the Youth Empowerment Institute to use. Where the confidence of the members of the House of Restoration youth ministry has grown, so has their commitment to helping others.
"With the tools attained through YEI and the resources gained from the grant, Urban Alliance has made it possible for our youth to take a stronger lead in their ministry and facilitate more community engagement initiatives as compared to previous years," he shared. "It has fostered a group of youth that are committed to serve their community, which is more than what I could ask for as a youth leader."
If your youth ministry would like to participate in the next Youth Empowerment Institute this fall, please contact Rosaicela Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860.986.6052 for more details!
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