A new hard-hitting youth magazine written by local students forces readers to confront some of Merced's most uncomfortable issues.
The first issue of We'Ced came out Thursday and includes brutally candid personal essays dealing with topics such as homosexual discrimination, meth use, suicide, homelessness, poverty and isolation.
"Most kids look forward to watching TV after school or going home and chilling with friends," writes Deigo Sandoval, a 17-year-old junior at Yosemite High School.
"I, on the other hand, look forward to my next high even though I have been high throughout the day. No one seems to notice how scared I really am of life."
Taken as a whole, the magazine reads like a wide-eyed question to the community: Can't we do better?
"Around sixth grade, kids would ask me if I was gay, or why I acted the way I did," writes Mark Skinner, a 16-year-old senior at Golden Valley High School. "How I acted was normal to me. I didn't know any other way to act. Sometimes, following the hurtful questions, kids would call me a faggot or throw things at me."
The program, funded by the California Endowment, promises to produce two issues a year. Over the past six months, students met twice a week after school to work on their writing, discuss content and develop ideas.
"We're trying to empower them to not only tell their stories but to also realize how their stories intertwine with the rest of the community," said Andres Reyes, program coordinator and editor of the magazine. "For a few of the youth it has sparked a reawakening."
Deigo said the support and friendship of the group helped give him the confidence to tell his story. However, it was the writing process that forced the El Nido resident to examine his substance abuse more closely.
"I was writing it in my phone and something hit me -- the things that I was saying," he said. "I finished and I started reading it again, and I was like, 'I don't want that for me. I don't want that life for me.' That's when I started to think about what I'm doing, what I'm not doing."
The first issue of We'Ced looks at some of the community's most serious problems, but Reyes sees an opportunity for future editions of the magazine to also deal with solutions.
"I think in the long run it would be great if this could become a beacon of youth advocacy," said the 25-year-old Merced native.
"It can be something that people look to, that people turn to, that people trust -- and can hopefully inspire action."
The program has 14 youth authors who represent areas including Merced, Le Grand and Pla-nada. Over the next few months, Reyes said he will look to bring on three to five new writers. Students receive a $30 stipend for their participation.
A sister project in Fresno has been producing the youth magazine The Know for several years and played a large part in launching We'Ced.
Copies of We'Ced will be available for free in downtown businesses and stores around the county.
To apply to write for the youth magazine, send an email to email@example.com and visit www.wecedyouth.org.
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.