IVAN VALENZUELA/Coachella Unincorporated
When Jose Alcantar was invited to attend the annual Sons & Brothers camp, he was just excited to get out of the desert for a few days — but he was taken by surprise by how much the camp had to offer.
“I thought there wasn’t going to be much to do in the woods, but no, they really did a lot. I think that caught me by surprise. I learned a lot over there,” Alcantar, one of six youths from the Eastern Coachella Valley who traveled to Portola, Calif. to participate in the camp, said.
At the camp, which took place July 20 through July 26, students participated in group discussions where they talked about common issues that the Sons & Brothers initiative hopes to address, such as school attendance and dealing with suspensions.
Alcantar said he hopes to use what he learned from the camp to interact with his community and work on what he believes is a big issue.
“I learned how to interact with people, so I wanna (sic) use that to talk to my community about creating better education for incoming high school students,” Alcantar said. “My [sister is] barely going to be a fourth grader, and I want a good education for her going into high school.”
Trinidad Arredondo, a mentor with the Sons & Brothers initiative, joined the Coachella Valley youths and other teens from fourteen different locations across California at the annual camp. He said he’s hopeful that the students were able to learn from those experiences.
“I think they took away some things they wanted to work on. Number one being the fact that young people are being suspended for willful defiance. They’re being suspended for small things, and our safest place for young people sometimes is our schools. I know that they took that away from it,” Arredondo said.
The Sons & Brothers initiative, formerly Boys and Men of Color, began with an effort to invest in young people of color throughout California. With Building Healthy Communities (BHC), The California Endowment funded a $50 million plan in 2013 that would help the success of young boys of color through a seven year campaign.
When Arredondo received training from BHC, with several other mentors in the community a year and a half ago, he was excited about what the program could do for Coachella Valley students.
“I saw the opportunity for myself to get involved. We started with seven mentors, community leaders and a group of people who had a passion for working with youth,” he said.
Along with the other mentors in the community, Arredondo helps young kids develop leadership skills in their community and schools. Especially in the Eastern Coachella Valley, the Sons & Brothers initiative works with groups and organizations to provide services like extra food, school supplies and medical help for addressing physical and mental health.
“A lot of the kids are currently going through a lot of things,” Arredondo said. “They come from broken homes where sometimes they don’t have access to food. They don’t have access to medical care. They don’t have access to a solid place to live. They have depression, and, especially during the summer, they don’t have places to go to let that out and share it. What we’re able to do is create a space for them to share.”
Ray Amador, a unit director for the Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley, is also a mentor for the Sons & Brothers initiative. Amador has gone to previous camps with students and explained that through obstacle courses, workshops and working in teams, the youths learn a lot from their experiences at these events.
“They see their peers, and these boys come to find out that they’re not the only ones that go through difficult stuff,” Amador said.