Winter 2004-2005

Award-winning Homeless Youth Website at Cyber Y Technology Center in San Diego
by Cesar Marcano

In August 2003 the Time Warner Foundation awarded the Global SchoolNet Foundation (GBF) a grant to work with youth in San Diego, California, focused on a specific challenge that the local community faced. GBF and the Cyber Y Technology Center created a dynamic partnership for the educational outreach project.

Life on the Streets

When kids heard they had an opportunity to select a problem in their community that needed attention, they decided to make a website about “life on the streets” and the matter of being homeless in San Diego. Since some of these kids had been homeless themselves at some time, they knew firsthand many of the barriers homeless youth were facing.

14 year old Daniel, who attends Monarch High, a school for homeless kids, was chosen as the team leader. “The reason I choose this topic is because it sort of hurts me to see my friends on the streets and I can’t do anything about it. Nobody really helps the homeless. I want my group project to make a difference after we put this on the web. We want to make a difference in San Diego by cleaning up the streets, and by getting the homeless off the streets.”

The kids quickly discovered that there was very little information on the Internet posted by kids about the homeless problem in San Diego, and being at different skill levels in terms of technology, research and writing abilities, they had to overcome many challenges during the creating of their web project. GBF trainers helped the youth understand the many rules and guidelines one must follow when creating a website. They learned how to make their web project interesting, learning along the way what the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words” means, during their quest to gather photos of homeless people in San Diego to help tell their story.

The students were further educated on the use of the web as a tool for sharing and researching important issues. During the creation of the site, those who were better at a certain tasks taught those who were less skilled. “We are now better web authors and storytellers. Our writing and research skills have improved from this project. It’s fun to be able to create our own content,” said Justin, age 13.

As a result of the project, the youth improved many social skills such as cooperation, collaboration, teamwork, compromising and balance. According to Rodney, age 11, “Our participation in the ‘Youth Awareness Ambassador Project’ has given us the chance to share our stories, drawings, and photos with the world. We realize that it is also important to be spokespersons for our project, so we will continue to be ‘youth awareness ambassadors’ by making presentations around town. We hope that our local new media work with us to tell our story, so we can help solve the problem of homeless kids.”

These kids also learned that the value of a project increases when visitors can contribute, so they have made their web site interactive and encouraged others to share their stories and images. “We learned that kids can help their community. We learned to become ‘youth awareness ambassadors,’ by using our own experiences to bring attention to the problems that homeless kids face. We think our web site will make a positive impact on our community, as well as the rest of the world, by helping others understand that many people, especially kids, become homeless through no fault of their own,” says Riley, age 11.

Today, the website has been visited by thousands of people. Students as well as teachers across the nation have found the website inspiring. “Congratulations for creating and sharing this beautiful website. It has inspired me to find out more about homeless youth and ways I can help and support them,” said Alexis, a local community member who provided feedback through the site. A teacher in Ohio considered the “Misconceptions” page thought-provoking and shared with her students how kids can engage in civic activities in their own communities. Another teacher in Massachusetts was so shocked and disturbed after visiting the site that it inspired her to use our example to create similar projects at her school. Mandi, a student from Ohio, congratulated the kids for helping in the fight against homelessness. We have also received requests from around the world to use our photos to demonstrate how technology is being used by youth.

Rodney and Riley Winters receive Channel 10 News Leadership Award
1st row, from left: Rodney and Riley Winters (age 13); Janis Arvin, Roosevelt Middle School Teacher. 2nd row, from left: Greg Fitzgerald, Director of Strategic Relations, Global SchoolNet; Yvonne M. Andres, Executive Director, Global SchoolNet; Cesar Marcano, Program Director, Cyber Y; Leonard Villarreal, Weekend Anchor, 10News.  

The kids have also received recognition and support by the local media and community. On October 7, 2004, two of the original members, Rodney and Riley, received the Channel 10 News Leadership Award. They are the youngest recipients ever to receive the prestigious award. Unfortunately, Daniel, Justin, and Jordan could not make it to the presentation of the award. They couldn’t escape the cause they were fighting. They became homeless themselves this past summer and had to relocate to Fresno. We hope they are doing well, and extend our congratulations on such a great job. Among other awards, the website was also listed as number five on the Top Technology Projects listed in the November 2003 issue of the Technology and Learning Magazine.

Cesar Marcano is Program Director of the Cyber Y Technology Center, a program of YMCA-Youth & Family Services, the Social Services Department of the YMCA of San Diego County.

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