By Adelita Serena and Juan Lopez
The excitement of a new school year is in the air. Two great programs for Yolo County youths not to be missed this year are Empower Yolo’s After School Safety Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) and the My Strength/Be Strong prevention group programs.
ASSETs is an after-school program that operates out of Woodland and Pioneer high schools Woodland. The California Department of Education, Empower Yolo, Woodland Joint Unified School District and the community collaborated to provide academic support and safe, constructive opportunities for high school students.
Our program content consists of academic and enrichment opportunities that will support student success. More than just an after-school program, the ASSETs team creates genuine connections with high school youths and families and provides opportunities for the development of life and leadership skills. The program also provides family literacy services to the parents of our high school students.
ASSETs operates after school and on weekends as well as during summer, intersession and vacation periods. Its programs are free and include snacks.
ASSETs, which is funded by a 21st Century grant, is unusual in that its programs are designed to meet the needs of the students at each campus. We base programs on areas that need support such as tutoring in certain subjects or clubs that encourage civic engagement and student voice.
In addition to academics and enrichment, we offer counseling services for students who may need emotional support or just provide a safe space to address thoughts, feelings, triggers or any kind of emotional stress.
Many of our programs also give students an opportunity to complete their community-service hours required for graduation, so they are learning new skills and working toward completing their hours. Last academic year at Woodland and Pioneer high schools, ASSETs logged a combined total of 40,432 “impressions” (instances in which students signed into a program), representing the number of students who attend our after-school programs.
It is critical to note that our programs would not be possible without the amazing staff at both sites. They all are skilled in working with youths and have special talents that qualify them to facilitate the programs.
One of ASSETs’ star staffers is Olivia Hernandez, who has a background in art. She led a mural project at Pioneer High and was responsible for coaching our students in design and application of the mural. Olivia continues to use her art background to lead students in art projects about campus.
Empower Yolo’s Teen Prevention Education Program is focused on promoting healthy relationships and preventing abuse in teen relationships. ASSETs staff and teachers may refer students to these groups, and the ASSETs program provides a safe space for the groups to meet.
These are primary prevention groups, which means they address the beliefs, behaviors and attitudes that contribute to intimate partner violence and sexual assault. The idea is to prevent the violence before it starts by promoting safe and healthy relationships as well as affirmative consent.
The prevention program has three different groups: My Strength (boys), Be Strong (girls) and Our Strength (gender inclusive). My Strength and Be Strong are student empowerment groups that are designed to address beliefs behaviors and norms that contribute to unhealthy relationships and sexual assault.
My Strength has been part of Woodland High since 2010 and began at Pioneer High last year. This year we will start the first Be Strong group at Woodland High.
The program also facilitates groups in many other schools in the county, including at Holmes, Harper and Emerson junior high schools, and Davis, Cache Creek and Madison high schools. Last year, Empower Yolo’s prevention department ran 23 groups of eight weeks or more in Yolo County schools.
The programs are funded through various grants including partial funding through the ASSETs grants for programs in Woodland only. Aside from this, there is no grant to specifically fund the Prevention Programs.
How to help:
* ASSETs: The community can partner with ASSETs by donating to our program. We are always trying to stretch our budget to take students on college visits. Any donations are extremely valuable to our program and we extend our gratitude in advance.
* Prevention groups: Empower Yolo’s prevention team speaks to thousands of children in the county about healthy relationships, teen dating violence and sexual assault. This means we need facilitators!
If you would like to facilitate groups, please contact Empower Yolo to volunteer for peer counseling training. If our program doesn’t exist at your children’s school, talk to school staff to request it.
— Adelita Serena is the ASSETs program director and has been with Empower Yolo since 2012. Juan Lopez is the director of prevention education and alternatives to violence. He has been providing prevention education in schools since 2007.
Empower Yolo’s mission is to promote safe, healthy, and resilient communities. To learn more about the organization and its youth services or to make a donation, visit http://empoweryolo.org.