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A Happy Youth Development Program

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"The 16 and 17 were happy days," says Dietrich on the second and last day of the Compass High Retreat. "I wish we would stay another night," he says.  "Me, too, Dietrich. Me, too," I respond.

Last Thursday and Friday were also happy days for me. Actually, they are the happiest days I have experienced as the Youth Development Intern.  We had our first retreat of the year and we were privileged to work with Compass High, a comprehensive high school for students with learning differences that just opened last fall.  Five of the eight students at Compass High joined us on Thursday morning, along with four staff, including administrators, so with Bill, Sid, and I, the ratio was greater than 1:1.  

"Welcome, everyone! We are excited to have you here. Now before we start with introductions, who can tell me why we are here?" I ask. "Community service," says Paige quietly.  I remember their names because we paid them a visit just last week.  We at Youth Development strive to visit every classroom before they visit ours, which is Hidden Villa's vast land.  We want to give students an opportunity to meet us and get to know us through our ice breakers and activities before we spend a whole day or more with them.

"That's a great answer, Paige. Who else has ideas of why we are here?" I ask.  A few moments later, Madison says, "Connect?"  "Yes!" I sigh.  "We are here for connection. We want to give you opportunities to connect with one another and we want to connect with you.  We want you to feel connected to this land, these trees, and these hills," I say, as I glance at the glistening green leaves around us.  

Connection was a theme of the retreat while the program focused on farm and wilderness.  After a few team-building activities and introducing the group to our beautiful farm animals, we set out to make apple muffins to deepen their understanding of where our food comes from.  We picked apples from our apple trees, collected eggs straight from chicken's nests, made butter, and grinded wheat berries.  In the end, we enjoyed apple muffins with a greater appreciation for earth because it provides so much for us.  

The next morning, we connected deeper with nature.  We walked alone on the trail for a few minutes while practicing to walk like a fox after expressing gratitude to people, earth, water, plants, our fellow animals, wind and weather, sun and moon, and the rest of the stars.  We made nature journals and befriended trees, which we got to know after spending time with them, noticing all that they were, what they felt like, what sounds they made, and what they smelled like.  As a last activity, we made pillows out of lavender, mint and other herbs, and wool we carded ourselves, wool from our very own sheep.

After a closing circle, in which we shared our beautiful perceptions of each other and hugged one another with great warmth, Bill, Sid, and I wished for more time with them.  Time to connect with them deeper, for them to connect with each other more, for them to see the connections all around them, with the land, trees and hills.  Josephine Duveneck once said, "Becoming aware of the relationship of all living things to other living things is the key to knowing ourselves. It is the basis for understanding the intricate web of life."  With Compass High, we strived towards increasing such awareness, and as our connection with them grows, we hope this awareness will also continue to grow.

To find out more about Hidden Villa Youth Development programs check out our Youth Development Page.

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Dulce's Story

My name is Dulce Anahi Andrade Estrada and I was born to serve. Dulce-

I am the Youth Development Intern here at Hidden Villa. This means I serve middle-school- and high-school-aged youth through a wide range of programs, including farm and wilderness, team-building, and service learning. I will be sharing my personal experiences from our wonderful programming throughout the next weeks and in doing so, introduce you to the youth we love working with.

I am very fortunate to work in an organization like Hidden Villa after graduating from college. I am here because I value education and service. I am here because I wish to serve youth. As a Mexican immigrant from a low-income status and a first generation college graduate, I understand the value of being served. I understand the value of being given the opportunity to fulfill my dreams, to fulfill my dream of a college education. I understand the value of investing in youth and their hopes, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Without mentors and foundations, many dreams would be deferred, dreams including mine. I know what it feels like to be underprivileged but I also know what it feels like to be inspired by others’ commitment to make this world a better place, to make this world more just. Because of this, I am inspired to give back. I am inspired to serve youth as I have been served, with unconditional support and love.

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Youth Leaders in ACTion

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“As assistant counselors in training, we are ambassadors of the Hidden Villa legacy who strive to both learn from and teach about our experiences at Hidden Villa, not only to other campers, but to our friends, families and communities."                         
          -Assistant Counselors in Training Mission Statement 2013                         

Three weeks ago I met Hidden Villa’s Assistant Counselors in Training (ACT) participating in the first session of their training course. These young people, the majority of whom have attended Hidden Villa camp for nine or more years, emphasized that, “Hidden Villa is not just a summer place, but a place where people can find themselves.” In the training they are learning, sharing and reflecting on their deeply impactful experiences in hopes of creating the same value for future campers.

As I listen to these mature, young adults speak about their experiences I’m encouraged by their ability to consider the life lessons they’ve learned throughout the years at Hidden Villa. “We’re here to learn to be mentors and through the process we’ll be able to develop our leadership skills.” Leadership, as they explain, entails developing the skills to have a healthy dialogue, learning to be professional, and recognizing how our attitudes affect others. They recognize the importance of having a safe space where they can share, learn, and grow. “Sharing is nourishing. If you have an idea and want to make change, you can inspire others. Then, you’ll start a movement of awesomeness.” They also realize that they are leaders for one another, “If someone is not getting it, we can mentor one another.” What a beautiful understanding of the mutual learning processes at play!

Often, these conversations about both leadership and mentorship are happening at school, but the youth don’t feel they are often able practice these skills in real life situations. “As ACT’s we are getting ready for actual jobs. This is an internship where you get experience supervising kids, animals, being responsible for other individuals.” As they discuss their thoughts, I see their energy and excitement rise. They are a group of teenagers that recognize their role in the local and global community and are eager to go out and make change.

I walk away from the conversation trying to imagine the seven-year olds that these young adults once were. I consider the experiences that have helped them see the importance of facilitating social justice conversations, engaging children in environmental education, and building their professional and personal self-confidence. Soon, as sixteen and seventeen year olds, they will go off and pursue interests and careers as policy makers, educators, or farmers that shape our future. I have no doubts that these young minds are building strong foundations to be empathetic, thoughtful, and inspirational leaders.

Sofía Pablo-Hoshino is a San Francisco native and the newest Development Intern at Hidden Villa. She enjoys knitting, long conversations about life, and cilantro on any and all foods. She also recently harvested her first beet, ever!

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The Interfaith Experience: A Youth-led Forum

interfaith forumIn the early morning of April 20th the farm was buzzing with teens practicing their speeches, setting up for the big day and making sure the last touches were in place. The Interfaith Experience was a completely youth-led event from start to finish that brought diverse perspectives together and gave youth opportunities to teach about tolerance. This inaugural "Duveneck Forum" provided the community with a space to come together for a collaborative discussion on non-violent communication, empathy and common ground between faiths.

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Continuing the Legacy

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Standing outside the silent auction tent at the 16th annual Duveneck Dinner I was taken aback by a vision.  This vision was of Frank and Josephine treacherously climbing the mountainside and looking down on the canyon and I wondered what they saw all those years ago. Could they see then the potential this land had to bring communities together and collaboratively work towards a just and sustainable future? Surrounded by the diverse group of staff, board members, donors and honorees, I stopped and thought about how this farm has changed so much since the Duvenecks came here but how their legacy still continues to inspire so many.

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On the road from Camp Staff to Intern

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When I came to Hidden Villa four years ago I was searching for a place to find myself.  I grew up in a very conservative Midwest town in Indiana, a place where I never truly felt comfortable in my own skin and was left searching for confidence.  It’s funny  but reassuring that I ended up in a place that teaches kids to have that confidence in themselves; something that I had never been able to do though I understood all too well the challenges of loving yourself as an individual.

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Fall Opportunities

Chris at the Duveneck DinnerFall has finally arrived and our school-year programs are back in full swing! Students, teachers and parents are returning to our environmental education programs, CSA shareholders are enjoying the bounty of the autumn harvest, our Community Programs are full of eager participants and our hostel is booked with visitors. It's a really great time to visit the farm and enjoy the beautiful trails, see our farm animals and learn something new in the educational garden.
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