Empowering Communities Through Prevention
Rubi Gutierrez, Prevention Educator at YWCA Silicon Valley
I began prevention work at Fresno’s Juvenile Justice Campus as a counseling volunteer, where we helped incarcerated youth finish high school through tutoring and mentoring and find jobs. It was there that I was trained on facilitating a curriculum called Safe Dates—and found my passion for prevention. Since then, I have worked in several different agencies talking about the dangers of teen dating violence and sexual assault.
During my time at the Marjaree Mason Center in Fresno, CA there was a youth leader, Aiden B. Montano, who was quiet in the beginning but had no problem voicing his ideas and concerns. He had been a part of the program for nearly two years and I was the latest hire to the agency. Initially, I found him to be my most intimidating student because of how responsible and vocal he was about his expectations of the program. As time went on, I learned that he was goofy and one of my most reliable youth leaders in our school based program, as well as a community leader in our community Youth Leadership Team. He took a lot of pride in being one of the few male students involved because it was rare to see, but also important in order to build relationships with other groups. As Lead Peer and a member of our community Youth Leadership Team, Aiden was often seen running our youth outreach booths, hosting information tables, attending community events, and coordinating presentations and school wide campaigns. Aiden and I had a run-on joke that although he was too young, one day he would “take Rubi’s job”. When I left to work at the YWCA-Silicon Valley (YWCA-SV), he reminded me that he was still perusing my position as a Youth Education Specialist. It is people like Aiden that inspire me to keep empowering youth.
A lot of students are already familiar with the prevention work we do—and just like Aiden, become invested in our programs. Any push-back or barriers we face is often from the people that aren’t directly involved or familiar with what we do or what prevention work is all about. The concept of preventing sexual assault and teen dating violence on campus excites most staff members; however they become nervous about having a discussion with students about what contributes to sexual violence: their environment, their relationships, and more. At YWCA-SV, our method of addressing those concerns is building relationships with school officials, school social workers, and parents during workshops. Prevention is more than just handing out flyers and doing a series of 1 hour presentations. It’s finding new, innovative ways to engage our community. It’s having conversations about the issues we’re seeing, then empowering them to “be the change”.
Building partnership with school districts is vital. I’ve gained trust with teachers through staff trainings, then offering them the opportunity for workshop facilitation in their classrooms. I really took the time to nurture relationships with teachers by setting up meetings, talking with them one-on-one and going over the curriculum or any concerns they might have. We need time and resources to do this, so they can become familiar with what we do and support us being in their classroom with their students.
I know it’s said a lot in our work, but I sincerely tell students that I would like to work myself out of my job. Whatever that means, we want to do. We get excited when students like Aiden want to take our job because that means more people are with us. AND when we no longer have jobs, that means we’ve done our work and sexual violence no longer exists.