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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Hopeful Art for Youth in need


UC Davis YEP prepares art from local juvenile hall

Houses are sacred locations, meant to protect and foster families within. Yet, when that ideal is not achieved, homes can be dangerous and come with negative influences. Unfortunately, victims to these hardships are often children. Focusing on the Yolo County Juvenile Hall, The Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) at UC Davis aims to motivate such misguided youth onto better paths. On April 11, YEP will host its annual art show to promote YEP’s goal and share participants’ art. Vice President Daniela Chavez, a fourth-year Spanish, Chicana/o studies and sociology triple major, explained YEP’s ambition.

“[The kids in the program] come from broken families, group homes, abusive households and how many of the times, the kids just need someone to believe in them, someone to listen to them and someone to tell them they can be whatever they desire in life,” Chavez said. “To me, YEP’s purpose is to be the mentor, the friend, that person that gives the detained youth, some form of hope that will lead them to be successful in this twisted world we live in and help reduce the recidivism rates of kids that return to the facility.”

This goal clearly manifests itself through YEP’s lessons and YEP members’ determination.

“Besides the lesson plans we do with the youth in regards to professional attire for interviews, how to create a resume etc., we simply go in there and try our best to create relationships with the youth and let them know they are not alone,” Chavez said. “We have moments in which some kids are able to graduate high school while detained and they have thanked YEP for helping them, for motivating them and always believing in them. I think moments like these let us know that we are achieving our purpose.”

Marina Kananova, a third-year human development major, explained how YEP’s upcoming art show fits perfectly with their goals as an organization.

“The lesson plans we do with them in the facility — a lot of it is in artwork,” Kananova said. “A lot of the kids, while they’re in there, they like to write poetry, write raps, or draw.”

The art show itself isn’t strictly from the kids.

“A lot of the artwork is [the kids’] artwork that we will be showcasing, but it’s also the community’s pieces,” Kananova said. “We will be having performers that will be showing art. We actually do have students at Davis that used to be members and they were in the system. So, a lot of them will be showing off their work.”  

The President of UCD YEP, Arnie Vega-Palafox, fourth-year sociology and Chicano/a studies double major, sees Davis students as unique advocators for YEP’s goal.

“As a UC Davis student, we encounter a lot of physical and emotional bumps in our life, yet we’re still at UC Davis, a highly looked at institution,” Vega-Palafox said. “We always tell [the kids] we came from low income communities as well. We had our personal struggles. We had parents who fought. We were surrounded by drugs and alcohol and violence, yet we’re still pushing to better ourselves everyday.”

So, what should Davis students expect at this event? First off, an event with a unique theme.

“We always have a theme and this year the theme is ‘Beauty within the Struggle,” Kananova said. “We came up with a bunch of themes and we actually had [the kids from the facility] vote on it. […] ‘Beauty within the Struggle’, is something they chose themselves.”

The theme will emerge in the show itn different ways, including interactive exhibits. This manifests itself through both the YEP members, and their assistance in creating the event, and specifically the art shown by the kids.

“If I remember correctly, we’re going to have this piece that one of the members is working on it’s kind of like a 3D jail cell,” Kananova said. “We were trying to put artwork in there, so people can walk in and kind of experience the tight space. […] They can feel like they’re the kids.”

The form of an art show, according to Vega-Palafox, showcases aspects of the children that other forms of presentation can’t.

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t really showcase the kids themselves or showcase any pictures or any video footage of what goes on in the facility,” Vega-Palafox said. “Actually showing the society, UC Davis students, professors, and anyone else what goes on in the facility is one of our major challenges […]”

This type of art presents the kids’ world in a realistic way, though explicit and painful for some.  

“We’ll be showcasing a lot of real life struggles,” Vega-Palafox said. “Instead of showcasing artwork that is displayed in San Francisco museums about indigenous people or artwork that is culturally known. We’re going to be showcasing artwork that is not too recognized, such as: poverty, the struggles of living in a low income community, the struggles of having parents divorced, the struggles of having parents who are not around for much time, sometimes the struggles of not even having a family, real life struggles that these kids go through.”

YEP may focus on the youth in facilities, but its work also has an effect on the YEP members themselves. Often, members leave the experience with strong memories and a motivation to continue their work.

“Although my visits are amazing, I sometimes have to face the youth that unfortunately will not be out any time soon and it’s very challenging to be okay with what they are telling you in the moment and being able to respond to them in a matter [in which] they know you are still there for them,” Chavez said. “YEP has changed me and I hope to continue bettering our

organization alongside all the members because a board position does not make any of us better at helping the youth. At the end of the day they are our priority and the reason why I partake [in] a role in YEP.”

While the content is heavy, Vega-Palafox ensures that the takeaway, from both the program and the art show, is meant to be one of hope.

“[The kids] may be going through these struggles, yet they have a bright future ahead of them,” Vega-Palafox said. “Everyone has potential. You make one mistake, that does not define your life.”

As April 11 approaches, YEP prepares to present honest art — art that doesn’t necessarily apply to artistic movements; art that isn’t given a grade; but art that showcases these children’s harsh life and the hope YEP offers them. More can be found out about YEP on its Facebook page.



Written by: Nicolas Rago — arts@theaggie.org


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