Recognizing Possibility: ACDP hosts first Teen Expo
Story and photos by Marisol Rodríguez
After reading the 2010 Community Service Society report 2010 on trends amongst New York City Latino youths in Education, Work and Income, Soledad Hiciano, Executive Director of the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans (ACDP), was alarmed by the high number of dropout rates for young Latinos.
“I knew things were bad, but I didn’t know how bad,” said Hiciano.
The data became a catalyst for a project that came to fruition this Sat., April 14th at Gregorio Luperón High School, where the first ACDP Teen Expo was held for young women.
Noticing a feeling of disconnection to a school system that Hiciano said has “been challenged drastically” in recent years, she came to believe that many students are discontent with their school environment and feeling isolated.
“Today, [the Expo] was about sending a different kind of message, a message of resistance,” she said.
In a day filled with numerous workshops related to higher education, career exploration, financial literacy and self-esteem, young women engaged in a direct dialogue with professionals about opportunities that can appear out of reach.
Many of the workshop facilitators grew up in the same communities throughout northern Manhattan and the Bronx as the participants.
Stephanie Ferreyra, a student at Hunter College, said getting perspectives from people with similar experiences was both helpful and inspiring.
“[The facilitators] are all really successful people who are part of the community, so it seems more attainable, like you can actually achieve it if you want to,” she said.
Hiciano and her staff decided on having gender-specific Expos in order to provide a safe space for teens to express themselves without the discomfort some may feel in sharing personal stories in a mixed group.
Elleni Guzmán, a student at the Hewitt School, noticed more benefits to having all-female discussions both at the expo and in school.
“It’s more like a game between boys and girls instead of who actually knows the answer,” said Guzmán of mixed settings. “It would be really uncomfortable talking about certain things in front of guys.”
ACDP, with city and private funding, seeks to meet the needs of youth through their own public programs, including a drop-out prevention program at the High School of Graphic Communication Arts and an Enhancement program at Washington Irving High School.
In one of the Expo’s workshops, “Body Image/Self Care and the Media,” Maria Graceffa spoke to young women about empowering themselves by finding their strengths despite some of the negative and stereotypical images prevalent in media.
“Take a moment in the day, and think about what you like about yourself,” said Graceffa to the group. Stephanie Ferreyra shared one of her strengths as being a good listener.
“Some people just need to talk and nobody listens, so I’m there [to listen,]” said Ferreyra.
In another workshop, “Women, Dignity, and Money” the facilitator José Northover motivated his audience to follow a simple formula for money management: give, save and spend.
“People think that giving is for rich people only, but the moment you say you don’t have enough to give, you’re making it true,” advised Northover.
Northover also noted the positive impression the young women left on him after the workshop.
“These young women aren’t just dreamers, they are planners,” he said.
Parents also attended workshops at the expo, specifically “The Way to Happiness” led by Maria Guzmán and Nelly Innabi.
In the workshop, Guzmán and Innabi discussed a book by the same title, written by L. Ron Hubbard, which includes tips to leading a more fulfilling and less stressful life.
Guzmán said the advice is especially helpful for parenting.
“Nobody gives you a manual on how to be a parent,” said Guzmán. “[This book] can be a guide to advise young people and help make better day-to-day decisions.”
In the face of all that is affecting youth, Hiciano hopes the conversations at the Expo served to help attendees realize their ability to push forward: “If I could save one today, one that was thinking of dropping out, one that couldn’t dream, I’m done.”
The Male Teen Expo will take place on April 28th.
For more information, please visit acdp.org or call 212.781.5500.