Five teens represent Merced and Le Grand at Fresno Building Healthy Communities event

Building Healthy Communities said five Merced County youngsters attended the first of its regional youth convention in Fresno last weekend.Eric Holloway and Natalie Salas from Merced High School and Jacky Aguilar, Cynthia Lopez and Stephanie Garcia from Le Grand High School were the representative.

They spent their days learning about youth organizing skills, media production and advocacy, the history of social movements and strategies to engage youth-adult partnerships, the nonprofit said in a news release.

On Saturday, they participated in a neighborhood clean-up in Central/West Fresno as part of a service project. Students from each location also planned, sketched, drew and painted a mural panel for their specific location which was then used to create one large mural for all the four BHC locations at the conference.

Michelle Xiong, BHC Youth Coordinator for Southwest Merced/East Merced County, who also participated in the training, stated, “For the mural, students were asked to paint what was important to them in their community. For Merced, they focused on the tower in downtown Merced, a big heart resembling a map of Merced with county towns on it with “Heart of California” written on top of it, and a basket of diplomas which represent the importance of agriculture and UC Merced as the seeds of change in our community.” The highlight for her was that the students were able to focus on what is good about Merced versus what is bad.

The conference also consisted of a variety of workshops, such as Environmental Prevention 101, Youth Organizing 101, Story Telling and Photo Voice, Media Advocacy and History of Social Movements. Students met with Camila Chavez, daughter of Dolores Huerta and niece of César Chavez, famed co-founders of the United Farmer Workers union, and watched the movie, “Viva La Causa.” Students also participated in a sober teen dance on Saturday night to celebrate Alcohol Awareness Month.

For youth Eric Holloway, the two best parts of the convening were the neighborhood clean-up and the “Viva La Causa” video. “I learned that instead of working in separate groups, we should all work together to clean up each other’s communities [and]I thought “Viva La Causa” was a great video. It taught us what methods to use to get our voices heard.”

For more information on how young people can become involved in Merced County’s BHC project, contact Michelle Xiong at michelle@unitedwaymerced.org or at (209) 756-5214.

Building Healthy Communities is a 10-year, $1 billion plan of The California Endowment. In connection with staff-led, statewide policy initiatives, 14 communities, including Southwest Merced/East Merced County, are taking action to try to make where they live healthier. They’re doing this by improving employment opportunities, education, housing, neighborhood safety, unhealthy environmental conditions, access to healthy food and more, according to a news release. The goal: to create places where children are healthy, safe and ready to learn. For more information, please visit www.calendow.org/healthycommunities/