Post by Foothold Fellow Janice Reynoso
I co-facilitated a seven-day retreat for our first ever On the RISE, a residential week-long retreat for youth leaders. They hailed from five different urban neighborhoods in San Diego and participate in leadership programs from four different nonprofit organizations. This program was created by Jose Cruz, Executive Director of Barrio Logan College Institute, as his community action plan he committed to as a RISE fellow. On the RISE is a holistic approach to growing leaders,valuing them as individuals and honoring their past. There was recognition of the native peoples of the land and of the Americas and how we can honor those who have suffered injustice on the very land on which we stand. We will all cherish and thrive from these moments of affirmation, meditation and world class facilitation of adaptive leadership models by our star lead facilitator and PhD candidate Grace Bagunu. The youth and leaders who participated in this program are from diverse heritage such as Mexican & Chicano, Middle Eastern, African-American, and Filipino who have stories of struggles and resilience. Brokenness and miraculous healing for themselves and their communities as our future leaders. The youth were from Barrio Logan, City Heights, National City, Southeast San Diego, and El Cajon.
Every day we focused on leadership components which consist of the seven C’s: Consciousness of Self, Congruence, Citizenship, Collaboration, Controversy with Civility, Common Purpose, and Commitment. On the day that was dedicated to Collaboration, we wanted to teach them one framework for learning about each other to create a culture of collaboration. I facilitated an exercise using Community of Excellence 2026’s Community Profile questions. Since applying this method to learn about National City and Chula Vista is a part of my assignment at COE, I could practice and teach it to the teens – and learn a lot in the process.
In the middle of our hike in the Idyllwild Nature Center we stopped near some boulders, right where Coahuilla Native American women used to grind acorns. We also got to work grinding out the details of what defines our communities. The teens broke up into their community groups. Barrio Logan College Institute’s Executive Director’s Leadership Council worked on Barrio Logan, YALLA’s Youth Leadership Council, having one youth leader from National City and two from El Cajon, chose to focus on El Cajon, the home of its program. Ocean Discovery Institute students worked on City Heights, and Full STEAM Ahead Students focused on their Southeast San Diego Community.
I asked them for their feedback on the Community Profile in addition to their answers to the questions. Their intuitions and reactions helped me see the Community Profile process through new eyes. They mentioned the language was a bit inaccessible or needed simplifying, but that indeed it was very detailed, which required them to come up with specific answers. Though some participants shared thoughtful reactions to how it could be changed, others highlighted very positive experiences in their communities. One youth leader from BLCI EDLC had a concern that using the same framework wouldn’t fit different communities. Another from YALLA mentioned how clean the streets were in El Cajon and how the police were always polite to him. In Southeast San Diego it was determined there was little or no implementation or execution of a mission, vision or values, though there were plenty of good ideas. This sparked their own community action plan to create their own youth council. City Heights youth leaders noted that there were no hospitals in their neighborhood,nor colleges or universities.
It was a great first experience putting the Communities Of Excellence Community Profile to work with our On the RISE youth leaders. I look forward to using it to engage new youth and to spark interest from those questions that are important to us all but we never really thought of. At least not in this way.