Throughout the course of Youth Transforming Justice’s history, young people exercising authentic agency has been at the core of our success. This year YTJ has focused on diversifying the base of youth leadership members to ensure that youth volunteers mirror the communities that YTJ serves. Before the pandemic YTJ experienced a large shift in the demographics of clients due to the closing of the San Rafael Police Department’s youth diversion program. Essentially overnight, youth referrals went from a majority white students to mostly teens from Latinx communities. “We knew we had to make sure our staff, board and volunteer base was representative of the clients we serve,” said YTJ Program Director, Antonio Zavala. “But we also knew finding teen volunteers from this population would be more difficult as many of these students need paying jobs.”
Ashley Calderon has been a part of the program for four years. She has been an ongoing volunteer helping to support respondents by being on the Peer Team and is trained as a Peer Advocate and Peer Facilitator. “The most valuable experience I've had while working with YTJ is how much of a difference we can all actually make when everyone puts in effort together to help others,” she says.
This year, with the benefit of a new grant, YTJ was able to establish a paid high school and college internship programs for BIPOC students. YTJ hired new high school interns from San Rafael, Terra Linda, and Madrone High Schools as well as College of Marin and Sonoma State University.
The interns have been trained for multiple positions including, as advocates, peer team members, and peer facilitators. Because of this, interns can work with respondents in multiple ways and, over time, create a sense of caring and camaraderie. Interns are also enjoying opportunities to observe sessions of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission, participate in restorative justice trainings and help advocate for restorative discipline options at area schools.
Leslie Oviedo has been an ongoing participant in Peer Solutions for over four years as a Peer Team member, Peer Advocate, and trainer. In her free time, she likes to take care of animals. “The most valuable thing I have learned with the YTJ program is patience and seeing people’s point of view on things,” she says.
The YTJ team has witnessed a positive change in our program's atmosphere, and we are learning a lot. “We are learning so much about being culturally curious and how to better listen to young people with different perspectives. I think that our youth clients also feel safer, and the program feels more relevant to them when they can look at the peer team interviewing them during a hearing and see other teens that look like them,” said Zavala. “We have also had the opportunity to hire young people who have been through the program as clients. They have such a special understanding of the program from all sides and have really enriched the experience for others.”