Operation Fearless: Developing Episcopal youth for faithful citizenship

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Mayte Aldrett spent the summer as an EHF intern through the Hire Houston Youth program. She grew up in a neighborhood near the Port of Houston and is currently a senior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Mayte has a strong passion for environmental policy and social justice. As part of her internship at EHF, she writes about the Operation Fearless program facilitated by Mi Familia Vota to encourage civic engagement among young adults in Spanish-speaking congregations within the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

By Mayte Aldrett, EHF Intern

It’s mid-morning at Rice University and almost 100 high school students of color from all over Houston listen attentively to one of the guest speakers Larisa González had invited for that day.

It’s all part of a week-long summit González helped coordinate through Mi Familia Vota’s Civic Engagement Youth Leadership Development Program.

Just three years ago, González began her involvement with Mi Familia Vota as a volunteer and now works for full-time for the organization. Mi Familia Vota recently partnered with the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and EHF to focus on civic engagement and increase voter participation in predominantly Spanish-speaking congregations in the Greater Houston area.

For González, faith runs deep in everything she does. She has stood with the church during times of adversity as she witnessed family members come and go due to deportation throughout her childhood. She made it clear that working for a cause without excluding her beliefs is the drive that has allowed her to continue pursuing the needs of her community no matter how daunting it may seem at times.

González recognized a new energy from the youth and young adults in the congregations as Mi Familia Vota worked to address low voter turnout and increase civic engagement in the Latino community during the 2016 election.

“In the Episcopal church, young adults are often forgotten and left in the gap,” said González. “Young adults wish they can do things, but don’t know where or how to start.”

González says many young adults feel like they’re overlooked in their capability to change their community. Recognizing this need, Mi Familia Vota contracted with EHF to work with youth in three Episcopal churches to build community organizing skills and civic leadership through the Episcopal Diocese of Texas Civic Engagement Youth Leadership Development Program. Aware the program’s title was a mouthful, they searched for a name that would grab the attention of the youth: Operation Fearless. The program title is meant to emphasize that youth should be empowered and feel confident to stand up for injustice, be civically engaged, and impact current community life.

Mi Familia Vota identifies young leaders by connecting with youth missioners in congregations and provides the agenda and curriculum. In exchange, congregations are asked to simply provide the space and opportunity where program staff can meet with the youth and discover what they are most passionate about in their communities. There’s no staff or planning requirement from the congregation.

Many youth are already aware of the issues in their community, but they are not often given the platform to speak about them, let alone engage in them. Operation Fearless is essential to community engagement by young adults, as it provides tools necessary for the variety of young leaders in the community.

The program allows for a more powerful voice as faithful stewards in action by educating and motivating the youth. A few skills and tools the program provides youth are leadership development, creating an agenda with goals and how to achieve them, how to incorporate action with their faith, and learning to build on past and present social movements.

“We teach the youth how to identify community needs. The youth are asked, ‘If you had a magic wand, what would you change in your community?’ This prevents putting limit on their imagination and own aspirations on what seemingly cannot be done in their community,” said González.

Young adults are being empowered to be sure of themselves, which ultimately allows them to be a voice for the voiceless and stand up against injustice. This concept is important to González because she says as a pivotal moment in her youth includes mentors encouraging her bright future and acknowledging she was meant to do great things.

Youth concern themselves with many of the issues, such as Senate Bill 4, because they hit close to home. González, like many others in our communities, has had to deal with the devastation of separation of their families, the devaluing of their lives because of the color of their skin, and other prejudices and injustices.

Let it be known that our youth are not blind to these matters, but rather are often kept silent. González refers often to the scripture 2 Timothy 1:7 when she needs to see light in darkness: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

The program seeks to engage and allow youth the opportunity to work not just within the church, but outside of those walls, including with other congregations, and their community. The ideas presented in the program ignite a call to action among the youth, which has thus far included the spread of information on legal rights, voter education, and participation in phone banks.

As stated in the program’s mission, the program is for youth who “have expressed interest in increasing the level of civic engagement in their communities so that they can have a more powerful voice as a faithful steward through Social Action.”

Mi Familia Vota will host an Operation Fearless series this Fall and attendance is encouraged for interested youth:

Saturday, September 9th | St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Pasadena, TX

Saturday, October 14th     | St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Houston, TX

Saturday, November 11th | University of Houston, Building Location TBA

Saturday, December 9th   | Location TBA

The application deadline for interested youth and young adults is September 1, 2017. We encourage you to apply here: Operation Fearless Training Program

In the future, Mi Familia Vota hopes to expand its program to work with more Episcopal churches across the Houston area. For more information on how to get the youth of your congregation involved, please click here to send an email to Larisa González.

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