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HELPING TODAY'S YOUTH BECOME PRODUCTIVE CITIZENS

From the West Side to the House Side

My name is Felix Moran, and I grew up on the West Side of Phoenix, AZ. Being a school drop-out, gang affiliated, and not working was a norm. My friends and I were all kicked out of the public-school system, and we had to enroll in a charter school to complete our education. The small class sizes and school setting was good for me though; I had the chance to meet all the staff members and principals, we all knew each other and to this day I still talk to the secretary of my charter school.

Growing up we considered the older generation as “OGs”; they were all forced to abandon their schooling and start working so they could help their families. We saw how successful they were with their nice cars and good paying jobs; we all believed we could be successful without a high school education. Due to the severe lack of resources and role models we were all forced to grow up without guidance; eventually, I got into some trouble with the law and I was incarcerated for a one year and nine months. Out of my group of ten friends- eight were incarcerated and five were deported to Mexico.
After being released from my imprisonment, I wanted to improve my life by getting my GED and furthering my work experience. I went to a Phoenix Workforce Center where I found out about a program called YouthBuild. I was so interested because I believed construction was the only field a felon could prosper in. I joined the YouthBuild program thru ACYR AZ. The staff were so welcoming, and willing to help me with all the obstacles that appeared as I was in the program. The YouthBuild coordinator became a great mentor to me and helped me in my journey. I became a leader amongst my peers; I helped my friends, so they could all graduate and get their construction certification. The YouthBuild coordinator saw potential in me and, told me about the Opportunity Youth initiative that was being started in Phoenix, AZ. This was the first time I met the mayor, Greg Stanton. I made a joke saying, “If I was before the Mayor of Phoenix in any other circumstance, I would have been tackled”. I started voicing my opinion on how to help opportunity youth and where to reach them. I was so surprised by how a system I grew up thinking hated us, now wanted to help us in any way possible.

Recently I was hired by the Arizona Center for Youth Resources (ACYR AZ) as the Outreach Coordinator. Once I was hired, I went straight back to the neighborhood I grew up in to share these opportunities. My role in the agency is to help youth through the registration process, and share flyers and information about our programs to the community. I’m also the Youth Leadership Council Advisor; I help them with planning community events and volunteering. Youth face challenges beyond what they can tackle alone, they need perseverance, mentoring, and optimism to envision a better future. A lot of disconnected youth tend to come from communities that have disadvantages, like lack of resources and positive role models. Youth struggle with education and employment because they see these things as obstacles instead of opportunities. This was true for me because all the people I saw around me that didn’t have an education or a good career, but they did have their own place and a reliable vehicle. Those that did have opportunities would leave the neighborhood and never come back. So, seeing people as a positive role model or having the resources to be successful was always an inspiration, but knowing that wasn’t my reality, just a dream. That’s why I’m determined to help as many youth as possible, looking for them at smoke shops, liquor stores, and dope houses because these were the places I was hanging out and I know there are many who still hang out in these locations.

When I was in Washington D.C. earlier in November with OYU, I was told by Sharlet Barnett (CEO, ACYR AZ) and Anel Mercado (Director of Programs, ACYR AZ) to go with them to speak to our representative, Congressman Ruben Gallego and our Senator, Jeff Flake. I was so overwhelmed with the idea of meeting the people that represent me in Washington D.C. I was so excited because I follow both of these officials on Facebook and subscribe to their updates, I’ve always believed it is important to keep up with our elected officials since they are representing us!

When we got to Russell Senate Office Building I was getting nervous because it was sinking in that there was a possibility that I could be able to meet Senator Flake. Once we walked into the office I was slightly disappointed I didn’t get to meet the Senator face to face but, it was a great feeling being able to talk to someone from his staff that cared and wanted to help us. I told them about my first-hand experiences on how youth are dropping out of school, how some of them want a great career but don’t have the resources or training. I felt like they were interested in what we were saying and processing ways to try to help us in the moment. Eventually, we made it to Rayburn House Office Building, where Representative Ruben Gallego’s office is located. I was so excited to have the chance to meet him but unfortunately, he was busy attending a meeting and we just missed him. This time I felt a little more confident going into the meeting, talking about the issues affecting me, my friends and my community; like how they should step up and help the DACA recipients, as well as how some of the non-profit organizations are helping opportunity youth but are short funded. As we were leaving Congressman Gallego’s office, an intern from Arizona State University gave us a quick tour and escort back the Capitol Visitors Center as they had provided us with tickets to the House Gallery. I asked him his name and he told me, Ildefonso, I then started asking him questions on what part of Phoenix was he from and he told me the “West Side of Phoenix”. I then started asking more “like what part exactly in the West Side of Phoenix?”, well it turns out that we grew up in the same neighborhood and we also have grown up with some of the same friends! We started talking about the neighborhood park where we would play basketball; I was just astonished how his path lead him to be an intern with Congressman Gallego’s office. We both are working to help youth, in different capacities, yet we both want to show the youth in our community that there is more to life than the lifestyle we grew up seeing.

I won’t lie, the opportunity to tell my Representative and Senator what is affecting me, my friends, and my community was very pleasant. I felt like they heard my voice and took the time to realize that I’m not the only one struggling with these issues. I will follow up with them and send them an email that way I can start building relationships with my Senator and Representative. I know this won’t be the last time I will see my elected officials, there is still a lot of work to be done and we have to keep reminding them to do it.

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