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Feature Story

Summer Youth Media Mentoring Project

By Julie Gunderson, Senior Psychology and Sociology Double Major

This story was originally written for the University of Denver's Center for Community Engagement & Service Learning (CCESL) Public Good Newsletter and has been reformatted for this publication.

Students at the Youth Media Mentoring Project 

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the Summer Youth Media Mentoring Project, a program arranged by the Open Media Foundation and the Bridge Project here at the University of Denver to partner at-risk middle schoolers with university students to create digital stories about their own lives. We gathered at Open Media Foundation's main office every Thursday afternoon for six weeks, with dedicated time in the computer lab.

I grew up in Iowa, and am fortunate to be a native-born US citizen. Most of the students that I worked with this summer did not have that same advantage, and have overcome much more because of it. As immigrants from Mexico or Africa at a young age, these pre-teens have seen a lot in their lifetimes. Most of them come from low-income situations as well, which of course presents its own set of hardships.

I was fortunate enough to be partnered with an incredible seventh grade student who moved here from a town outside of Nairobi, Kenya. She is also Muslim. Being in middle school can be challenging enough, but on top of all of the normal difficulties, she also experienced bullying due to wearing a hijab.

For some of these students this project was the first time they had shared their stories, but even those who had shared pieces of the story in the past had never made a visual representation of their experiences. The Media Mentoring Project gave them the chance to use iMovie and other media tools to share their stories, build confidence, and contribute a unique perspective to our group. Some pieces told stories of good times with friends, others expressed the heartache of isolation. No matter what the story, the students had an opportunity to consider their vulnerabilities. Hopefully through articulating their stories, students came to understand and appreciate their own identities.

While the project was meant to allow the middle schoolers to develop media and storytelling skills, I learned a lot as well. I had never used iMovie or made a digital story, myself. And to be honest, I feel like I learned more from these pre-teens than they could have learned from me. Growing up in Iowa, I never really encountered the idea of immigration or even people who were immigrants, let alone what it was like to be an adolescent experiencing immigration. As I worked with my mentee, I was shocked by the things that she had encountered despite her young age. Hearing her story helped me to reflect on my own story and my privilege.

In a day and age where intolerance is still portrayed as an acceptable form of behavior, sharing personal stories is even more important. Understanding the life of someone different from you is the first step to building community. Equally important is building self-esteem. Middle school presents unique challenges, but learning to be empowered, confident, and secure in oneself can go a long way if instilled at such a pivotal age. Becoming comfortable enough to share "this is me" stories with the world is not easy to do, but we all benefit from sharing our stories. We learn, we empathize, and we grow. We begin to find commonalities and build community.

In late October the Youth Media Mentoring Project displayed the students' stories at a showcase. We loved sharing with others the confidence it took for these students to share their perspectives with us.

The Youth Media Mentoring Project will be continued in the spring quarter with the help of grant funding from the Colorado Clinical Translational Sciences Institute. For those interested in becoming a mentor for the Youth Media Mentoring Project in the spring, reach out to Lynn Schofield Clark in the Media, Film and Journalism Department. No previous experience in media is required (I sure didn't have any!).

More importantly, if you cannot commit your time to mentoring, try to share your own story. Whether it takes the form of a digital story or verbal reminiscing, you never know who you could impact, and our community will be better because of it.