Vieques Youth Leadership Initiative

Our Accomplishments

VYLI is the first major program to be developed in support of the young people in Vieques. During the last two years, we have developed a comprehensive youth empowerment program that engages young people to become part of the solution instead of the problem. We are proud of we’ve accomplished in such of short time, with so few resources and overcoming so many obstacles. Our goal is to expand this pilot program to become an ongoing demonstration project.

• Proven program: continuous after-school program in Vieques for 2.5 years.

* Rewarded Academic Excellence: provided partial college scholarships to high school graduates

* Trained Young-Emerging Leaders in Annual Summer Institute: 25 (2004); 35 (2005); 45 (2006)

* Reduced School Dropouts and Provided School-to-Work Transition/Providing Youth Employment

* Reduced self-medication of youth depression-attempted suicide.

• Motivated young people, develops work ethic, team work, leadership

• Buildt public-private partnerships with local, national business

• Involved international Vieques community as mentors, partners

• Celebrity involvement with media track record: print, radio, TV

• Joint effort program: integrates business community to encourage economic growth

VYLI Accomplishments: 2007

Graduation: presented scholarships to 10 high school graduates.

At the graduation ceremony, VYLI college youth Tania Cruz and Eliasib Utreras presented the graduating seniors with a $50 donation, a special medal, a certificate for their portfolio and a copy of book, Pan Y Vino Para El Camino. Tania just graduated Magna Cum Laude in Psychology from UPR Cayey, the first in her family to graduate from college. Eliasib is an incoming sophomore engineer major at UPR Mayaguez. They received a standing ovation from students, parents and teachers.

Entrepreneurship Initiative

Thanks to a grant from the Banco Popular Foundation, VYLI has expanded our Entrepreneurship Initiative to launch our Eco-Tourism Initiative. This fall young people learned how they can help preserve their culture and the environment of Vieques. They collected and harvested calabash gourds and carved them into bird houses and lampshades with beautiful Taino designs. During the holidays, young people sold them with our signature T-shirts and hand-made jewelry from indigenous beads, seeds and VYLI logo pendants. Kutasha Silva conducted a training from the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship to help young people prepare their products for the marketplace and learn how to warmly greet the tourists to their Island.

Eco-Tourism Initiative

VYLI welcomes Tania Cruz as our new Project Coordinator for our Eco-Tourism Initiative. Every Friday Tania travels from the main Island to Vieques so that on Saturday she organizes workshops for enthusiastic young people. They learned about which trees will attract more birds to Vieques and help reduce global warming. On December 9, ten students from UPR Cayey’s Eco-Tourism Club traveled to Vieques for a tree planting project with VYLI youth. In just one day, they presented 17 trees to families so young people can practice being an environmental steward of their island. Thanks to Tania, the founding president of the UPR’s Eco-Tourism Club for organizing this wonderful exchange to help build a new Vieques.

• Tree Planting Eco-Tourism Day

• Beach Clean Up Eco-Tourism Day

Bike Repair Workshops

15-year-old Carlos Belardo was the first to bring his bike to VYLI’s first Summer Institute. The Institue’s faculty from Jason Upshaw was impressed with how creatively Carlos had jerry-rigged his bike – using whatever he could find to keep it going. Just imagine what he could do with the right tools! Two years later 17-year-old Carlos is now teaching other youth how to fix their bikes in our Saturday workshops. He also works at Black Beard Sports. Bikes are good for our health, the environment and our island.

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Workshop

VYLI received a seed grant from Pfizer Pharmaceutical for a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Workshop. Over the holidays, future M.D. Ambar Fontanez proudly led the VYLI college youth team for a site visit to the teen pregnancy prevention center Pro Familia in San Juan. She and the team then helped organize and lead a workshop on Teen Health and Pregnancy Prevention to inspire youth to start the New Year off on the right foot. Tania challenged youth to take charge of their health with good nutrition and exercise. Kutasha Silva facilitated an interactive session on positive mental health. We look forward to matching this first grant and developing partnerships with others on the island to realize everyone’s dream of reducing teen pregnancy in Vieques.

VYLI’s 3rd Educational Site Visit

During Easter break (March 29-April 11) VYLI Project Coordinator Tania Cruz participated in a 10-day educational training and site visit to the Stone Soup Leadership Institute’s organizational partners in the San Francisco/Bay Area of California. Tania was the third VYLI youth leader to have this unique experience. In 2005, her brother Josue traveled to Southern California to work with Cesar Chavez Foundation and Radio Campesina. In 2006, VYLI’s first Project Coordinator, Kutasha Silva visited our Northern California partners.

VYLI’s 2nd Annual Community Service Day

On October 24, Vieques youth and adults joined with people all over the U.S. for a national day of service, Make A Difference Day. Young people of Vieques took great pride in creating a major facelift to VYLI’s Conch House. They painted the front of the house and wall and rebuilt the front gate and the back stairs. Located across from the Lighthouse/El Faro he VYLI Conch House is a showcase of young people’s dreams.

VYLI Youth Summit

VYLI dedicated our 4th Annual Summer Institute to the creation of the VYLI 2020 Report. VYLI Alumni (ages 15 to 25 years old) from the past three VYLI Summer Institutes were invited to attend the first Vieques Youth Summit. These young people have been working on their dreams – some for nearly four years. We documented their progress and celebrate their success. We invited them to help create the future of their island. Since they will be the leaders in the year 2020, they want to help plan for their island’s future.


• Caribbean Media Exchange’s 10th Annual Conference on Sustainable Tourism

• VIP Event for New Partners at Zanzibar’s on the Waterfront, Washington D.C.

• Youth Radio, Oakland, CA: Tania Cruz had her first media interview with national audience.

VYLI Accomplishments: 2006

Cultural-Entrepreneurship Initiative — VYLI participated in the 3rd Annual Caribbean Artisan Festival in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Teens learned how to preserve their unique culture and discovered how they can help contribute to the economic well-being of the Island. Funding was provided from the sale of jewelry made by VYLI youth.

• Expanded VYLI pilot to engage many more young people to become entrepreneurs.

• Vieques craftspersons train youth to incorporate more Taino design into our jewelry.

• Conduct buying field trip to San Juan for youth to learn about wholesale vs. retail sales;

• Produce quantity of VYLI jewelry to sell at Festival; attend crafts workshops.

• VYLI Project Coordinators attends NFTE training for in New York City: May 2006

• Conduct weekly “VYLI on the Malecon” on Fridays during tourist season through May;

Technology Initiative — Thanks to a grant from Microsoft, VYLI conducted computer training sessions for teens and non-profit organizations in Vieques. Students learned to create portfolios and applications for college scholarships, as well as how to navigate in the world of the web.

• Produce newsletters customers that will encourage repeat business, donations/sponsors, educational partners.

• Develop VYLI email database from customers – tourists from “VYLI on the Malecon.”

• Recruit non-college bound youth to participate in VYLI vocational training program.

Academic Excellence: VYLI requires youth to be in school. A few drop outs have returned to school. Several VYLI students have been accepted at colleges and 18 VYLI high school graduates received a cash gift for their future studies.

Organize 1st Annual Job Shadow Day

• February 2: 9th annual Job Shadow Day: matching young people with adults

Community Involvement — VYLI is registered in Puerto Rico, conducted a community planning process, created a diverse Board of Directors and Advisory Board; trained residents to be project coordinators, engaged the extended families and friends of youth as mentors, and received the support of local and foreign organizations.

• Conduct planning session with VYLI/SSLI/Vieques partners: DOL, NFTE, YouthBuild

VYLI Accomplishments: 2005

* New VYLI photo exhibit at the Vieques Airport features young people sharing their dreams.
* Youth + mentors created website: to share our story with the world;
* Hosted first student exchange with youth from Martha’s Vineyard.
* Expanded Cultural Arts Initiative and piloted the Entrepreneurship Initiative;
* Field trip to Caguas: recorded theme song with Tito Auger in Danny Rivera’s studio.
* Trained staff: Kutasha Silva with National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, NY
* Hired and trained Viequenses women: Kutasha Silva, Betsy Ayala and Linda Bayron.
* Engaged parents/grandparents/extended families to create spirit of mentoring youth;
* Held 2nd annual Summer Institute for 60 young people ages 7-19 + held two Summer Camps;

Entreprenuership Initiative

• Organized successful four-month pilot program;first youth entrepreneurship in Vieques;

Young Viequenses (ages 13-17) learned how to be entrepreneurs by managing a business.

VYLI youth designed culturally representative products, developed our presentation skills, practiced English; took our product (T-Shirts) to the Malecon in Esparanza.

• Supported Vieques youth leader/entrepreneur: Juan Mercado, Playa Voltios owner who received press from San Juan Star, El Nueva Dia, TV Channel 4; is featured in the VYLI photo exhibit at the Vieques airport and served as mentor for VYLI youth in the design and marketing of VYLI T-shirt;

• VYLI Project Coordinator & Director attended NFTE training: New York City: May 5-7, 2005

• Conducted Summer Institute: June, 2005: featuring Entrepreneurship, Cultural Arts, Culinary Arts

• Speeches from entrepreneurs/business: Roberto Cacho, Jose Marcano, Gary Elmer, American Eagle.

• Conducted two-week BIZ Camp, July 2005: youth envisioned VYLI businesses;

• Conducted weekly workshops during fall to expand T-Shirt business to VYLI jewelry;

• Launched 2nd season of “VYLI on the Malecon” during busy Thanksgiving weekend.

Cultural Arts Initiative

• Conducted series of jewelry design workshops with Viequense and New York women;

• Used VYLI logo to design pendant and create unique indigenous necklaces.

VYLI Accomplishments: 2004

* Learned new skills to create small businesses and generate a plan for their future;
* Connected intergenerational mentors to open doors and support their success;
* Prepared youth to create partnerships to build a sustainable Vieques.
* Honored Island ‘s heritage at Puerto Ferro ceremony by Nane Alejandrez with Juan Mercado
* Jump-started uplifting community projects
* Inspired youth to voice their dreams and develop plans to create their vision for the future.
* Helped launch new Youth Radio show hosted by Carmiann Céspedes and Josué Cruz
* Youth Medical Team headed by future doctors: Ambar Fontánez and Raquel Acabá Pérez meet with Hospital Executive.
* Created a lasting memorial of youth vision with Art Mural in the Town Plaza
o sketched by 16-year old Nelirys Sánchez with artisan mentor Ernesto Pena, Thomas Martin and young artists
* Our Young Leaders of Vieques have big dreams — including a youth center, a drug and alcohol rehab clinic, a fully equipped hospital with medical personal and a university.

+ Built an Island-wide collaboration of youth, organizations, businesses, citizens, seasonal residents is endorsed by Mayor Damaso Serrano, Governor’s Office of Special Communities, Father Nelson Lopez, Boston City Councilman Felix Arroyo and Jose Villamil, Estudios Técnicos. This public-private partnership began in February, 2004 with a four-month community planning process. The Vieques community embraced the Initiative: we’ve received in-kind support from many Viequenses businesses and benefited from numerous volunteers. We are grateful to Judith Conde, 4H Club of Vieques for her early partnership in the development; Sub-commissioner Radames Tirado and to Tito Auger for his inspired commitment.

+ We conducted a series of educational programs that expose young Viequenes to successful young social entrepreneurs; provide training and mentoring through Summer Institutes & Leadership Workshops; open doors and create access to grants and and socially responsible partnerships. By harnessing the energy and idealism of youth, we are creating positive long-lasting relationships that will impact the Island’s future. We have received positive press for Vieques youth –featured on WAPA-TV (Channel 4), El Nuevo Día and The San Juan Star.

+ In our 2004 Summer Institute, twenty-five young people graduated from a week-long intensive training where they learned to envision their ideas, organize teams and develop plans to launch social- business ventures. Our faculty consisted of multicultural young leaders featured in the book, Stone Soup for a New World, including representatives from Barrios Unidos, National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurs, Timberland and Youth Ventures.

+ Technology Initiative: young Viequenses featured on the world stage at the 2nd annual conference of the Alliance for New Humanity in San Juan.

+ Cultural Arts Initiative: developed photographic exhibit of young people’s dreams for their future with support from Puerto Rico Tourism Co. We’ve created a hit song with Tito Auger, lead singer Fiel a la Vega and producing an inspiring video.

+ The Bike Initiative, a joint venture with the 4H Club of Vieques, trained young people to repair old bikes. The Bike Initiative makes a strategic contribution to the Island’s new eco-tourism industry and gives youth a transferable skill for their future careers: from repairing bikes to boats, cars and airplanes – all good-paying jobs and much needed services by the Island community.