Secrets

By Graciela Quintana on March 25, 2014 in AmeriCorps

For our long term project, Team Detroit has partnered with Teen HYPE, a community-based organization that strives to “empower urban youth to thrive while strengthening their communities.” In our work at our host agencies, each of us has witnessed the need for investment in Detroit’s youth and we wanted to help Teen HYPE expand its capacity to do so. Teen HYPE was established in 2004 to empower youth through education, leadership development, and service. Teen HYPE provides diverse programs for  youth.  These include an after-school tutoring program, STD and HIV prevention education and testing, teen pregnancy prevention, and the performing arts activities. Most importantly, Teen HYPE is a safe haven for young people when they have nowhere else to go.

To commemorate 20 years of AmeriCorps and kick-off our long-term project, we helped coordinate and assisted with Teen HYPE’s 10th annual play, “Secrets.” Every year, the youth at Teen HYPE write and perform a play, which is performed for thousands of students from the city of Detroit. The plays address topics that affect children and teenagers on a daily basis, though are not discussed openly due to social stigma. “Secrets” was about the problems young people encounter and how they hide them from their loved ones. “Secrets” portrayed characters struggling with illiteracy at the age of 16, not having enough food to eat, and taking care of their younger siblings because of absent parents. Two of the characters had survived sexual violence. When they attempted to hide their problems from their friends and families, they suffered consequences that included a nervous breakdown, failing grades, and social exclusion. The play showed how important it is for children and teenagers to share their experiences with others and seek help by displaying the positive support that is available within the Detroit community. Although the subject matter was serious, the playwrights used humor, music, and dance to keep their audience alert and engaged throughout, a difficult feat considering a majority of the audience were 13-18 years old.

Secrets shared by Teen HYPE youth

Secrets shared by Teen HYPE youth

Team Detroit contributed by calling every Detroit public school to arrange ticket purchasing and transportation for the students, in the weeks leading up to the play. To recruit volunteers, we arranged for the tickets to have space available on the back for people who were interested in volunteering in the future to write their contact information. We will be contacting them to see if they would be willing to be added to our volunteer pool. On the day of the play, we put together lunches for the students who attended, helped sell concessions and merchandise, and ushered people to their seats.

The most meaningful part of this event for me was watching the kids of Teen HYPE perform their own work. Though it was heartbreaking to know that most of them had drawn upon personal experiences when writing the play and performing, one could see how truly empowering  it was for them to tell the world what they deal with on a daily basis while continuing to dance, sing, and laugh.

The youth featured in the play

The youth featured in the play

My host agency runs a syringe exchange program for injection drug users in Detroit. When we have new participants, we ask them as part of the enrollment questionnaire how old they were when they first started taking drugs.  Many of them say they started at ages ranging from 12-17 years old. Obviously, I am not privy to all aspects of people’s lives and cannot make an accurate conclusion. But watching the kids perform made me wonder if the lives of our clients who started injecting drugs at a young age would be any different if they had had an opportunity to be a part of something like Teen HYPE.

The event was incredibly significant and meaningful, serving as a reminder of why we do what we do every day. We are excited to continue working with Teen HYPE and will use the energy from the play to carry us through to the end!

Kamran, Jerome, and Lindzy are excited for the play!

Kamran, Jerome, and Lindzy are excited for the play!

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