For over 50 years Amigos de las Américas has sent high school and college students to Latin America to volunteer with community development projects. For the past year, however, second-year community regional development major Anna Peare has been redefining what it means to be a part of Amigos.
Peare was recently awarded the Donald A. Strauss Foundation Scholarship, winning $10,000 which will go towards her plans to launch the first national Amigos program, working with youth to impact local change. Her project is called the Amigos de las Américas: Backyard Program.
For those who are unfamiliar with the organization, Amigos de las Américas is an international nonprofit that fosters adventures and education alike by preparing high school and college students to spend a summer in Latin America. Once there, students live with a host family, soak in the culture and lead service projects that range from health to environmental, depending on the individual needs of the community they’re living in.
Peare was already an Amigos veteran when she came to UC Davis, having done two over-the-summer programs in Panama and Peru. Her idea takes a very new spin on the established organization, and since its inception in the fall, she and the program have been very busy.
“I actually started the backyard program with this grad student who goes to Davis,” Peare said. “So we kind of just thought, ‘What would happen if we just took the summer program and made it local?’ And now we’ve been working on it for over a year, working with different departments at UC Davis.”
The community and regional development graduate student mentioned by Peare is Todd Simmons. Simmons, who has been involved with Amigos since 2002, is currently president of the board at the Sacramento-Davis Chapter of Amigos.
“In the past we’ve been very focused on privileged youth going from the U.S. to Latin America and that’s due to the cost… This new program, the Backyard Program, is zero cost to the participant. It is engaging them at their own community level.”
Though Peare is currently the director of programs for the Amigos de las Américas: Sacramento-Davis Chapter, the Backyard Program is an independent project and not part of her current duties for Amigos de las Américas. The Amigos Davis-Sacramento Chapter has been fully supportive of the program, however, and Peare has also received a great deal of support here on campus.
“We’re working closely with certain professors in community development — so the college of Ag. We’re also trying to partner up with the University Honors Program — trying to get some sort of service learning component going on with that,” Peare said.
Katie Stone, executive director of the Sacramento-Davis Chapter of Amigos, has been assisting Peare in her development of the program. However, before Peare won the Strauss Scholarship, their work was unfunded.
“She [Peare] was working with the Amigos organization over the last year to develop the curriculum for everything, but without that scholarship I don’t know how we would be able to roll everything out as we move forward.”
The Strauss Scholarship is a step toward expanding and strengthening the Backyard Program. As far as getting involved in the program, Peare said that it’s open to anyone who wants to get involved in the Davis community.
“We have the supervisor application posted, but as soon as we get those locked down we’re going to be focusing on getting youth to participate. We want college level volunteers,” Simmons said.
ELLY OLTERSDORF can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.