Three Holy Cross Students Help Launch Youth Leadership Program in Worcester

November 7th, 2013 by 

From left: Ron Charette, director of the South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Center, Paula Vianca Cunanan ‘14, Yarlennys Villaman ’14, and Erick Diaz ’14.

Last month, three College of the Holy Cross students, in conjunction with the South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Corp. (SWNIC) launched its first Youth Leadership Program for Worcester teenagers. The program is a six-week academy with the goal of educating Worcester teens ages 14-21 on how to be leaders in the community. The sessions are held at the Autumn Woods housing complex, where SWNIC hosts teen programming and where many of the program’s participants live.

Yarlennys Villaman ’14, a Spanish major with a concentration in Latin American studies, has been working with SWNIC since her sophomore year and will serve as lead organizer for  the first-time leadership program. During the six-week span, she will act as an activity leader, give a presentation on how the participants can become community organizers, and will share her own personal narrative experience as an emerging leader.

After Villaman’s supervisor contacted her to create a project for the teenagers, she proposed a leadership program with Erick Diaz ‘14 and Paula Vianca Cunanan ’14 which would target  at risk?high school students. Diaz and Cunanan are both  involved with SWNIC as camp counselors for the free summer programs that the non-profit organization offers.

Rob Jones, associate director and coordinator of the Multicultural Peer Education (MPE) program at Holy Cross, was the featured speaker at the first session on Oct. 24. He has been working with the Autumn Woods complex for 15 years, and is familiar with the students, their families, and the experiences of the neighborhood.

Jones spoke to the students about servant leadership and the potential in every individual to be a servant leader. He explained that while many people understand leadership as “position leadership,” such as the president, these positions are limited and not the only form of leadership. Servant leaders lead by performing the task at hand and educating  those around them in the process.

“I want to encourage [these students] to realize their leadership potential,” said Jones, after his presentation. “Everyone has potential, but not everyone taps that potential. It is something I believe everyone should get his or her hearts around. I always say, ‘Never underestimate your power to inspire someone else.’ The best way to do this is by example.”

Villaman remembers how crucial participating in youth leadership programs was for her growing up in Cambridge, Mass., and she is confident that this new program will do the same for Worcester teenagers.

“I have this motto that says ‘in the end of a dark tunnel, there is a light and that light is hope,’” said Villaman. “We want to show this group of kids that even in the rough neighborhood they are growing up, they can be leaders and be that change.”

Other speakers in the program include Frank Kartheiser ‘72, lead organizer of Worcester Interfaith; Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, SS. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker Community; and Jacqueline Peterson, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at the College.

About the South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Corp:

The South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Corporation has been a valuable resource and a valued contributor of social services to the neighborhood since their founding in 1969. They are a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation serving the South Worcester community. Find out more on their website

For additional information, please contact Bridget Cass at 508-793-2419.

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