Ambassadors for Youth Success mentor adolescents
In May, Fresno State honored the Ambassadors for Youth Success (AYS) club with two of its highest honors at its annual awards ceremony for outstanding efforts by student clubs and organizations.
Child and Family Science senior Jasmine De La Torre was selected as Outstanding Club President and the organization also received the Community Service Award in return for their work connecting with area adolescents and providing a supportive link to higher education opportunities.
The club was founded by De La Torre, co-president Quanie Dilldine and fellow Fresno State undergraduate students from the department’s children at risk course who came together in the spring of 2017. Membership now includes more than 20 students from social work, psychology, nursing, liberal studies, child development, and communicative disorder programs.
AYS leadership have specifically targeted local area’s high rate of high school dropouts with valuable advice, insight, and affirmation to help local youth feel less isolated and illuminate potential paths to higher education.
Students in and around Fresno County are less likely to graduate from high school than many of their peers throughout the state and the country which stand at 17 and 15.9 percent rates, respectively. Failing to graduate exposes youth to negative psychological, vocational, and economic challenges that can exist the remainder of their lives.
To help combat this trend, AYS officers began by building relationships with middle school and high school teachers in Fresno, Clovis, Visalia, and Madera during the 2017-2018 academic year.
The club held four outreach panels in the spring at Computech Middle School, Edison High School, McLane High School in Fresno and the California Connections Academy charter school in Visalia that reached 155 students – with more sessions requested for the fall of 2018.
Fresno State AYS students shared encouraging information about graduation and college enrollment by providing useful information, personal stories of perseverance, and even financial aid and scholarship application tutorials.
"We get all sorts of questions," De La Torre said. "Some are simple like what is the difference between Fresno City College and Fresno State, or what is a degree versus a major. But we also get complicated ones that have so many potential answers, like how do I go to college for free. We also get one-on-one questions that are really personal that might touch on abuse and ask how can they still be successful in life. Those were the same types of questions I had when I was their age, and didn't know who I could go to."
A key part of AYS students’ message was directly at the term “dropout”, which poorly represents the complex realities of youth that leave school early. Many potential victims negotiate difficulties related to abuse, economic, family commitments or family member loss, lack of acceptance, language barriers, poverty, and other emotional issues that directly affect their academic focus and self-worth.
"We want the kids to become the best versions of themselves," Dilldine said. "We hope by hearing our stories, they believe in themselves, and not let their circumstances limit their potential. Their attention and focus to what we're saying is so impressive. We're not that at much older than they are, and they can relate to what we've been through because it's similar to them."
Through encouraging letters and emails, ambassadors continue to maintain relationships with students and classrooms that they have visited in the past year.
Several club members capped the semester by attending a high school graduation at the Save Mart Center to personally cheer on two students that they met in the spring. "Getting to see the smile of a student and his family after the ceremony was so fulfilling knowing what he had went through to get to that day," De La Torre said.
The experience also gives Fresno State students an equal chance for a brighter future.
"This club has helped us develop so many important skills that you don't get from 180 hours of class credits," De La Torre said. "I know that I'm much more comfortable in front of crowds, organizing events, time management, working with industry professionals and networking. The club has brought us together to build relationships and friendships that will last a lifetime."
Dilldine is equally reflective of the group's sudden and transformative impact.
"I didn't even think about college until I was a high school senior, so if I had this type of input in middle school it would have made a big difference," Dilldine said. "I would have tried harder in school, and thought about my future more."
"We owe so much credit to Dr. Aimee Rickman (club adviser and faculty member). She planted the idea of the club and the need that was out there, then encouraged us to take it from there. To see our club grow so quickly and have such an immediate impact is partly thanks to her and helping us overcome any obstacles. She is giving us constant support. When I wasn't sure if I could talk to these students in person, she said I was the perfect person to do it considering all the obstacles I had overcome, and it's true - she helped me to realize my passion in advocating for others and inspiring to be the best that they can be."
-- Information provided by Ambassadors for Youth Success advisor Aimee Rickman and students.