Proyecto Juventud Teaches Young Girls Self-Respect

By: Celia Martinez

 Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local NewsLaughter, impatience and perhaps some nervousness, filled the room as a group of approximately ten young girls waited as their presenter handed each of them a crisp sheet of yellow paper. Each girl held a sheet in her hand; they looked at each other in confusion awaiting directions as the presenter stood quietly in front of the group. Finally she spoke with instruction: “You can do whatever you want with the paper,” she said.

The results varied from simply folding it in half to an elaborate paper airplane and even a crumbled sheet of paper on the floor. Moments later she spoke again and said, “This paper represents your life.” The group was evidently taken aback with the realization that their actions had forcefully caused self-reflection.

The presenter was Maria Santos from the organization Options for Youth. Santos had come to speak to Mujeres Latina’s en Accion’s youth group, Proyecto Juvented, 1823 W. 17th St., about communication, trust and relationships, topics that seem appropriate to cover during February’s National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

“Actually this is the first year where the whole month is for National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month,” said Alma Vargas, Proyecto Juventud’s youth program coordinator. “Before it was just the second week in February.” Vargas added, “The second week of February is still reserved as respect week.”

Located in Pilsen, Proyecto Juventud is an after school and summer program composed of adolescent girls between the ages of 12 and 17 and is designed to assist the girls in making healthy life choices. And since February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, the group has been involved in various workshops, activities and discussions on communication, trust, self-respect and relationships in all their forms.

February proved to be a busy month for Proyecto Juventud as they hosted a variety of events in an effort to increase understanding and promote respect and healthy relationships. One of these events was held on February 20th, as members of Proyecto Juventud distributed statistics on teen dating violence throughout Pilsen in yet another effort to raise awareness in their community. Margarita Carapia, 16 and Julissa Ocampo, 12 were only two of many individuals who participated in the event.

Carapia has been a participant in Proyecto Juventud for about a year and half and said she has taken much of what she has learned with the group and applied it to home and school life. “It’s good,” she said about the program. “I’m comfortable,” she added.

Ocampo has only been with Proyecto Juventud since January, but seems to have already built strong ties with the group. “Well, I like it because it’s something to look forward to,” said Ocampo. “I go home and I tell my mom everything that I learn here. “

More recently, the group gathered last Thursday for the workshop led by Santos. Santos, now 25, was herself a teen mom and said she hopes that these presentations help to influence the young girls in a positive way. “I just really hope that it really makes them think whenever they’re making a big decision,” she said.

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