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By Alma Trejo, Campaign Director, Inland Empire Immigrant Youth Collective

 

This past November, the Inland Empire Immigrant Youth Collective had the privilege to graduate our very first Immigrant Youth Fellowship cohort! We held an intimate graduation ceremony where our fellows, their families and friends, our staff, and partners were able to reflect on the program, hear from the fellows, and celebrate by sharing a meal and dancing to Dj. Sizzle Fantastic.

Truth is, we do have a lot to feel proud about! This marks the very first fellowship of its kind in the Inland Empire for immigrant youth who are over 18. The 15-week paid fellowship program is designed for first-generation, low-income immigrant youth regardless of status, or educational and professional attainment. The fellowship aims to provide professional and leadership development through advocacy, organizing, and creativity with ample opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge through real life projects that address the priorities of our membership. 

Since its inception as a grassroots, membership-based organization in 2010, the IEIYC has committed to centering immigrant youth voices to guide our vision, strategy and goals. Through regular membership meetings, office hours at local high schools, and partnerships with colleges and universities, we work tirelessly to engage our youth in the decision making process. Their feedback informed the creation of the very first Undocumented Mentorship Academy, UMA, in 2016. Through UMA, our youth are mentored by local leaders while also focusing on learning from one another. Our goal is for UMA graduates to become the next generation of mentors and continue nurturing a strong immigrant youth community. While UMA has been a great opportunity for our youth to grow, heal, and build community, our members have expressed the need for further professional development opportunities to help them transition into the professional world. 

The fellowship addresses four key areas of work identified by our youth membership: youth and political organizing, communications and social media engagement, and financial wellness. Our first cohort consisted of four amazing youth leaders who have truly made this first cohort a success!

Our Youth Organizing Fellow, Maria, was responsible for organizing local immigrant youth.

One of the biggest challenges our members have encountered is the lack of resources at their high schools. We recognize that while the statewide immigrant youth movement has accomplished so much in the years since IEIYC first was first founded, accessing the information and resources available, such as the California Dream Act, can often be difficult and intimidating. So Maria’s work during the fellowship has been imperative in helping us breach that gap.

Our Political Organizing Fellow, Wendy S., was responsible for developing a strategic plan for our #UndocuReady Campaign, which advocates for high schools to have trained staff that can help immigrant students access and navigate higher education and/or professional opportunities. During the fellowship period, the governor signed AB 278, which set up a grant program for high schools to establish their own Dream Resource Centers. While the grant is not yet funded, Wendy’s efforts will allow us to continue working towards ensuring high schools become #UndocuReady so students have all the support they need while we continue to push the legislature to fund this grant. 

Financial Wellness is another central concern for immigrant youth, especially after the hardships experienced during the COVID19 Pandemic. Oscar, our Financial Wellness Fellow, was tasked with beginning researching and developing resources to help immigrants in the region overcome the financial challenges unique to our community. Oscar collected data through interviews to better understand the economic strategies, habits and challenges of undocumented immigrants. Oscar’s work builds the foundation for developing a community centered approach on financial wellness ensuring our community can thrive during times of economic downturn. 

Last but not least, Wendy A. took on the important role of Communications Fellow helping us build a sustainable communications plan that amplifies our work as an organization and highlights the work our fellows did during their fellowship. Wendy worked on reinvigorating our social media presence and ensuring our fellows, staff and members were involved in creating content. Staying connected and up to date via social media has been a priority for our membership as our region is vast and the capacity to reach youth in person can often be a challenge. Most importantly, Wendy A. created opportunities for all fellows to be creative and have fun while sharing their stories and work. 

The fellowship is another vehicle through which we make our vision and goals a reality. But what truly distinguishes our fellowship from other programs is our focus on empowering youth to prioritize their physical and emotional wellbeing. Our hope is that this fellowship helps build a new generation of immigrant youth leaders who organize for positive change through a lens of sustainability and healing. 

We urge organizations in the Inland Empire to become our partners and help us develop employment opportunities for our fellows upon graduation. If you are a local partner who is looking for new talent, connect with us! We would love to work together to make this a reality for our amazing fellows!