Engaging People in Change (EPIC) is a new leadership-building program for high school students in rural Northeast Dutchess County. In weekly youth-directed meetings, students discuss the social justice issues that matter to them and create activist projects to make a change in their communities. This group empowers young people to be leaders, advocates, learn new skills, and to be a part of something important. We meet at Grace Church in Millbrook and offer transportation for students living in the Pine Plains, Millerton, Amenia, Dover Plains, and Millbrook areas.
The service that we offer to youth and to their broader communal networks is much more of a partnership than a service. EPIC is the "microphone" for youth voices that our society does not usually hear or listen to. By fostering a space of open, honest, and accepting dialogue and by capacity-building and mobilizing young people from around the region to work as activists for social transformation, we are building more capable, confident, and empathetic young people who are also trained and experienced in impacting their communities in their work towards peace and justice. We seek to foster the capacity for leadership amongst young people. Our theory of change involves a three-pronged approach:
First, EPIC will create an open, honest, and accepting community that welcomes young people from diverse identities, geographic areas, and situations. This safe community space will be fostered through team-building activities, cooking and sharing meals together for weekly meetings, and enrichment activities to reduce stress and encourage self-expression and personal development, including yoga and meditation.
Second, we will facilitate workshop-style critical questioning for young people to reflect on the social issues that are relevant to their lives and communities. Before beginning to work towards peace and justice, young people need to be given the tools to deeply understand the root causes, relevant social structures, and current obstacles to the issues that they are facing. This knowledge will come from facilitated dialogues, guest speakers, field trips/site visits, and educational materials. By empowering them to be sociologists creating their own hypotheses and conclusions about their collective experiences, we give our program participants opportunities to think in a manner that is much more nuanced, inquisitive, and long-lasting than what they typically learn in school.
Third, EPIC members are encouraged to devise and enact social justice projects in a wide range of public spaces to share their understandings and perspectives on contemporary structural inequities in their communities. We don't know yet what that will entail, as it will be up to EPIC members to choose the best strategy of activism. Possible projects might include: collecting oral histories to raise awareness about a given issue and using social media to transmit them; a food justice project that would involve skill sharing with urban Poughkeepsie students through a community garden; or other projects that the students themselves will come up with.