Written by Jasmine Alarcon, Youth Leader from Mikva Challenge DC
When I was in tenth grade I took a Japanese language and culture course and instantly fell in love with it. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was actually able to go to Japan through the class and not just learn about it through a textbook or maybe it’s just because it was just an amazing course. I loved every minute of it, celebrating not only the similarities between Japanese culture, my Guatemalan culture and American culture, but also the differences between them too. One of those differences being that Japanese culture has a special day to celebrate the youth, which is Children’s Day or, in Japanese, Kodomo no Hi. On this day, households put up special decorations and eat special dishes to celebrate the youth. Although American culture doesn’t have a holiday like this, Mikva Challenge programs are all about this idea of celebrating youth.
Mikva Challenge celebrates the different backgrounds youth come from and teaches them how to use their experiences to be involved in civic leadership. I became involved with them when I started my senior year of high school and was completely unaware of what I may want to do with my life. But ever since then, I have decided that I would want a career in advocacy. Through Mikva Challenge, I became involved in their Elections In Action Fellowship, where I had the opportunity to learn issues that youth care about and canvas for presidential candidates. I was also a part of their Summer Fellows program where I was able to intern in the Office of the Student Advocate and learn about the issues they are trying to fix in DC Public and Charter Schools. Mikva Challenge did a great job celebrating our successes on the work we were doing but also checking in with us to make sure we were doing well mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. They made us feel like a team and family through their praises and support, which is why I thought the holiday celebrated in Japan resonated well with what Mikva Challenge’s mission is about.
Both of these programs within Mikva Challenge DC allowed me to continue advocating and learning about issues in my community. The newest program with them that I am a part of is being a Youth Census Ambassador, which I am currently doing during my gap semester before college. With a partnership between DC Action for Children and Mikva DC, I was given the opportunity to text bank people in my community to remind them to fill out the Census, which is crucial to make sure communities receive the resources they need, especially during this time in a pandemic. Even though I would get a lot of people who wouldn’t respond to my text, there were always the ones who did, either to say they already filled it out or that they haven’t. To be able to help at least one person fill out the Census was fulfilling because that one person may have a big family or know other individuals who haven’t filled out the Census, which will in turn make a difference in the number of people who do fill it out. I enjoyed my time with Mikva and being a Youth Census Ambassador and just doing my part in my community.
Mikva Challenge DC worked with over 1200 students last year through our direct youth work that Jasmine describes above, and our partnerships with classroom teachers. This school year, we are actively supporting students to be engaged in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election, to make their voices heard on issues affecting them in their school and communities through our Project Soapbox program, and empowering DC youth to create their own “Youth Values Budget” for DC to advocate for issues that are most important to them and their communities through our after school, Elections in Action Youth Fellowship. To get involved with our work, contact Mikva DC’s Executive Director Robyn Lingo at email@example.com.