YBN frequently invites community leaders to meet with students to help expand students’ understanding of leadership and the unique role youth play in revitalizing their communities. So, when Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif agreed to personally facilitate a Community Ambassador training for students, students were excited.

On Thursday, April 4, 2013, Councilman Sharif joined YBN students and staff at the Newark YMWCA to discuss partnering around community-building. Michael Bright, the Newark YMWCA’s President and CEO, offered welcoming remarks, emphasizing the importance of volunteerism as a way to stand out in a competitive workplace. For several years, YBN and the YMWCA have collaborated around service. Most recently, students helped construct a lounge for YMWCA staff.

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Select YBN students – Aaron McQuiller, Chareese Rice, and Khaleemah Porter – led an introduction to the YBN program. They began by facilitating “Morning Circle,” a process during which those who are present express how they are feeling, and the recitation of YBN’s philosophy. After a brief introduction to the YBN model – including its five (5) program components, Aaron, Chareese, and Khaleemah each shared their personal reasons for applying to the YouthBuild program. While each student had a different narrative, all three students shared a similar commitment to using YBN as a vehicle to improve their lives. Aaron stated, “YB helped me to build. I feel like I have a goal for myself. I’m trying to claim that.”

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With this, Councilman Sharif was compelled to share his personal journey as well. Students listened attentively as he described how he had progressed from dropping out of college to eventually graduating from Rutgers University Newark magna cum laude and becoming a public servant. At the end of his story, the Councilman emphasized the importance of accountability, whether it is to one’s self, family, and/or the community.

Councilman Sharif subsequently conducted a presentation on the Adopt-A-Lot program, an initiative in which residents, local agencies and non-profit organizations transform vacant lots into community gardens. Noting YBN’s role in revitalizing communities, Councilman Sharif was very interested in having YBN students join the effort. Noting the dwindling supply of resources, the Councilman stressed the importance of partnerships and service as a way to address numerous community needs.

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Yet, beyond partnering for community building, Councilman Sharif expressed his interest in exposing students to as many opportunities as he could, including, potentially transporting students on a tour of Princeton University. “We’re going to have a long relationship and do a lot of things,” he stated.

At the close of the Councilman’s presentation, students posed questions about various city issues including teacher tenure and its impact on student success, support services for pregnant teens who desire to stay in school, recreational options for youth in light of community resources (e.g. the Littleton Avenue Boys and Girls Club) fading, and solicited guidance on future goals. Councilman Sharif offered thorough, thought-provoking responses and a healthy dose of well-placed humor. When he concluded by expressing his hope that students would partner with him, students collectively offered an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Students then presented the Councilman with a hardhat covered by decals that represent students’ achievement of benchmarks in the vocational component of the program.

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Students were also personally invited to attend the State of the Central Ward Address on Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at Science Park High School, with special seating and transportation provided to and from the site.

YBN foresees a lengthy and mutually-fulfilling relationship with Councilman Sharif and looks forward to cultivating a partnership.

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To learn more about Councilman Sharif, click here.

To learn more about the Adopt-A-Lot program, click here.