Writer Thomas Wolfe's novel "You Can't Go Home Again" was published in 1940, but the expression hasn't lost its profundity 70-plus years later.
The flip side of that expression, however, is sometimes home is where you're most needed.
Case in point: Andres Reyes, a 26-year-old native Mercedian who recently returned home after working for an independent music label in Los Angeles. After the label he worked for had financial difficulties, however, the University of California at San Diego grad had to put some of his musical ambitions on hold in 2010, and returned back to Merced.
But coming home didn't mean stagnation for Reyes, and a once closing door opened new opportunities in his hometown. Reyes looked at his options and was eventually hired as the youth media coordinator of We'Ced Youth Media, a magazine written and produced by high school students.
For the past year, Reyes worked as a one-man show in directing the students who produce We'Ced. Reyes' job, funded by the California Endowment, is a mélange of journalism instructor, mentor and editor.
Most of all, the job requires Reyes to be a good listener -- particularly because the stories told by the students are often extremely personal. Some students have tackled tough issues such as sexual abuse and growing up poor. Others have written about discrimination against gay and lesbian teens. The experience for Reyes, working with the youth, has been emotional and transformative.
Issue arriving soon
As he intermittently typed away on his Mac, putting some finishing touches on We'Ced's upcoming issue, Reyes described how returning home has proved an important lesson in giving back.
"The process of it has really kind of made me realize that there is a need for people to reinvest, especially in a community like Merced," he said. "It's definitely been the connection with the young people that has kept me here."
The hard work of Reyes and We'Ced's student staff will come to fruition this Friday, as the group holds a public reading and preview of their upcoming issue. The event is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. at Coffee Bandits. Reyes expects the new issue will be released before Jan. 1. The issue is free to the public and will be available at Coffee Bandits, United Way and a variety of Merced businesses.
Currently, there are 13 students on the magazine's staff, and a total of 25 have worked on the project since its inception earlier this year. The magazine's name was created by the students, Reyes explained. It's pronounced like 'We Said,' but meant to also resemble the name "Merced."
The group includes students from several campuses in the Merced Union High School District, including continuation schools. They meet twice every week after school, in a classroom at Valley Community School.
The students, ages 15 to 19, generally receive a paid stipend of $30 per week, depending on their level of participation in the project. At the outset of the project, Reyes got the word out to students by putting out fliers, talking to his old teachers at Merced High, and giving short classroom presentations about We'Ced throughout the district.
The magazine also addresses current local news events in the community, such as the Merced Union High School District's recent changes to its bus service. There's also an article about the district's new campus, El Capitan High, which is slated to open next fall.
"I'm hoping (the students) are having fun, and not only re-examining their own lives, but the community around them," Reyes said.