Vieques Youth Leadership Initiative


VYLI’s year-round after school program is a blending of public, non-profit and private sectors and a unique strategy: teaming high school students with middle school students with education and business mentors. This youth-to-youth training model was successful in our Summer Institute and other Stone Soup Leadership Institute youth-community initiatives, like the YMCA pilot using the Institute’s educational curriculum. We find that young people are more receptive to learning from emerging leaders. As a result we groom all students to support and even mentor each other. We train emerging leaders to help facilitate our programs. Our goal is to help reduce the typical “brain drain” in Vieques – where students leave at age 17. This has resulted in the lack of young leaders and positive role models for the next generation. We are building a community of young people who are supporting each other and working together to realize their dreams. Young people are self-selected and nominated by community leaders. Parents often ask if their child can be in our program. The first step of the VYLI was a 4-month community planning process with community leaders from various non-profit organizations. Then we held monthly orientation sessions with Tito Auger. Young people filled out an application – clarifying their dreams for their life and for Vieques; what challenges they see; what projects they want to work on; what projects they’ve worked on in the past; what other young people they would like to work with on their team. We then support young people to develop skills so they can make their dreams come true.

Train-the-Trainer Youth Empowerment Model

VYLI’s hallmark are youth leaders who have graduated from previous programs and are trained to help other young people in Vieques. During the school year, VYLI college youth travel on the weekends from Puerto Rico to Vieqeues to work with younger students who share what they’ve learned thanks to VYLI. Without positive role models in their lives, Vieques youth struggle to make the right choices for their future. VYLI alumni are trained to serve as Camp Counselors in the Summer Institute. Once they’ve seen the positive effect of the program on their life, they are eager to recruit, engage and train other youth to become leaders of their island. They are especially invested in passing along Dr. King’s legacy of “Each one, teach one.” – that creates a powerful multiplier effect for future generations of young people.

VYLI youth leaders work hard to help other youth learn how they, too, can make their dreams come true. In preparation for the Summer Institute, they participate in weekly leadership sessions; develop action plans to pursue their own dreams and prepare powerful presentations on their progress. They recruit new candidates, patiently work with new youth – helping them fill out their applications, inviting them to begin thinking about their dream for their life, their future and for the future of their island. During the week-long intensive, they help implement our ground rules – to be on time; stay focused on your goals and true to your dreams. They assist faculty to maintain cultural sensitivity and maximize learning in the workshops. They work as a team, building on each other’s strengths and respecting differences; communicating concerns and troubleshooting challenges. They develop a strong work ethic – showing up every day from 8 am to 4 pm. – then participate in daily debriefings to discuss what worked and what needs improving for the next day. Most importantly, they serve as role models for the other youth.

VYLI’s Summer Institute is a week-long intensive training for young and emerging leaders who work side-by-side multicultural young leaders from the book, Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Everyday Heroes. They exchange stories and explore innovative ideas for how to create a healthier island. Middle and high school students work in teams of 4-5, develop action plans and receive mentoring to implement their dreams and create projects that benefit the community. Every morning they express their ideas through art and writing exercises, then share them with others in small and large group presentations. Working with the Institute’s faculty, staff and camp counselors they learn how to create action plans to stay focused on their goals during the school year. They gain courage by listening to teen leaders and adult mentors share their dreams, their stumbling blocks, and ways they overcame them. Each afternoon they participate in hands-on workshops: culinary arts, cultural arts & handicrafts, computers, music & theatre and swimming. In just one week, they accomplished a lot! During the year, they fine-tune their action plans, troubleshoot challenges and develop strategies to realize their personal, professional and community goals. Step-by-step, these young people began to pave the road to their own future.

VYLI’s Faculty from the Stone Soup Leadership Institute

For nearly four years, the Stone Soup Leadership Institute has been working alongside community leaders to create the Vieques Youth Leadership Initiative (VYLI). The Institute’s faculty includes:

Nane Alejandrez, founder of Barrios Unidos provides educational and economic development opportunities for at-risk youth in 27 communities across the U.S. and South America. Mr. Alejandrez is featured in the book, Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Everyday Heroes.
Cesar E. Chavez, the 27-year-old grandson of the great Latino leader Cesar Chavez. Mr. Chavez is the web master/network administration for La Campesina Radio Network’s educational radio station enhancing the social-economic health of the Latino community in six states. Mr. Chavez is featured in the book, Stone Soup for the New World: Life-Changing Stories of Young Everyday Heroes.

Others from Pan Y Vino Para El Camino followed. They helped bring our educational curriculum to life and created the Institute’s first bilingual “global learning community.” International Advisory Council member Steve Mariotti and his National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship sent representatives and sponsored VYLI staff for trainings in New York City. Timberland sent 25-year-old Panamanian-American Jose Vega, then fifteen employees from Puerto Rico to create culturally sensitive-community service projects

Marilyn Concepion Cheyne, a 32 year-old Puerto Rican who dropped out of high school, then joined City Year, youth spokesperson at the 1992 Democratic Convention and is now the Latina representative for Congresswoman De Laura in Rhode Island.