SANTA MARIA, Calif. - At a time when bad behavior by local teens makes news headlines, dozens of young people gathered at the Abel Maldonado Youth Center in Santa Maria Friday night to celebrate positive choices they're making in their lives.
A banquet was held for teenagers and their families to celebrate the end of the annual Summer Camp at UC Santa Barbara with Central Coast Future Leaders, a non-profit organization with a mission of reaching out to local teens to help them help themselves at a pivotal time in their lives.
"This program, what it does, is it gives youth the tools that they need in order for them to succeed", says CCFL coordinator and program alumnus Gloria Soto, "delegates learned about leadership, learned about advocacy, learned about the importance of education and learned about self-esteem, how they can boost their self-esteem and their self-confidence for them to be able to take on leadership positions within their community and then reach out to their peers and encourage them to do the same."
For Summer Camp delegate Jennifer De Leon, CCFL has become a family tradition.
"The biggest impact for me was just the bond I formed with my group", De Leon said at the banquet Friday night, "it was just very eye-opening to see how close I could get to so many people in just a week and how much I could learn about them."
Problem solving, conflict resolution, leadership and community service are part of the CCFL Mission.
"CCFL has changed their life", says program alumnus and volunteer Joey Orozco, "within a matter of a week people have made new relationships and learned a lot about subjects that were not talked about within their families, or their friends, so I really think it helps a lot."
CCFL's model is "peer-to-peer" mentoring with local teens calling the shots on their program of choice from start to finish.
"The organization is youth-led, and youth-run by them, they identify their projects, they plan and they implement their own projects, and if they don't agree with something, we don't tell them what to say or how to say it, they are the ones that decide what projects that they want to pursue", says CCFL Coordinator Patricia Solorio, "its their own leadership skills and about who they are, what their role is in their community and their family and we just want them to learn about how to be successful in high school and go on to college."
"We do year-round activities as well", Solorio says, "beginning in the Fall, we will be having monthly meetings and volunteering and the students themselves identify projects to work on throughout the year."
To learn more about Central Coast Future Leaders, CCFL, go to: www.ccfutureleaders.org.