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Passing on the Joy of Youth

By YWCA Minneapolis
January 31, 2023
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Gaoseng, Dontrell and Solyana participated in YWCA Minneapolis Girls and Youth programs. Now each of them are in different areas of their lives: one is still in high school, one is in college pursuing a career in business management and one is a teacher assistant at Office of Black Student Achievement for Minneapolis Public Schools. What made them and is shaping them is their connectedness to YWCA Girls and Youth programs through their employment, mentorship and relationship with the staff, they said.

They were participants in the Beacons and Strong Fast Fit programs, which taught them having a healthy lifestyle, appreciating cultural differences, advocating and taking on youth leadership roles and inspiring them to give back to the schools they attended. As they moved on to high school, they would come back to volunteer during their time off from extracurricular activities and during summer breaks.

The three are now youth counselors in our Girls and Youth programs. Each counselor hopes to mentor, engage and empower youth in whatever areas needed. “By giving back to the youth in the program, we are giving back to the youth counselors who mentored us and to the community that supported the importance of afterschool programs. With our experience, our knowledge and our insights, we hope to inspire youth to volunteer, create memorable time and just be themselves,” said the three.

Gaoseng’s Story

I first got involved with YWCA Minneapolis by being a participant. I went to Hmong International Academy for my elementary and middle school years. I was in the Beacons program and then got enrolled into the Strong Fast Fit program. I wanted to keep feeling active and healthy, so I took up any opportunity to come help out during summer programs and after school family nights. Other times I would help facilitate activities like tie dying shirts, spaghetti towers and cooking for the kids because it also helped me learn more about nutritious food and meals.

“It’s a rewarding experience, seeing the kids enjoy their time around you and with their friends in program.”
– Gaoseng

Dontrell’s Story

I grew up in north Minneapolis and attended Lucy Laney as my elementary school, which is also where I joined the Beacons Afterschool Program. The Beacons program gave me a place to have fun, learn and to stay out of trouble. After enjoying my time there, I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in education and jumped at the opportunity to come back to where it started for me as a kid. I get to expand my skills and teach to my fullest ability, and most importantly have fun with the kids.

“We don’t come to work to just do our job — we come to also learn from our youth and our kids.”
– Dontrell

Solyana’s Story

I was in middle school when I joined the Strong Fast Fit program. I joined because I saw how they love working with youth and families, and the program contains all the things I like. For example, playing different kinds of sports, have team building activities and learn about ourselves. Strong Fast Fit was also a perfect place for me to volunteer because I knew all the activities and everything was familiar for me. Most importantly, I wanted to share how the community at Strong Fast Fit is safe and invite other students to join, to expand their experience and connect with others.

“I see other people who look like me which makes it safe to be around and it helps that we are similar so we all can build a stronger community together.”
– Solyana

Gaoseng, Dontrell and Solyana were given the opportunity and took the opportunity to be part of YWCA Minneapolis Girls and Youth. With these opportunities, they’re able to come back to where it started. “With us being here and building bridges, we can get more participants and expand the program in our communities. We want youth to know that we are here because we been through the program, we’re familiar with the staff and school personnel. We are here to build a safe community for them to explore and learn.”

Learn more about Beacons Learning Centers

Learn more about Strong Fast Fit

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