Tag Archives: youth leadership

NCCJ announces Caleb Wilkie of Westfield as the 2012 Western Massachusetts Youth Human Relations Award Winner

10 Mar

The National Conference for Community and Justice is proud to announce Caleb Wilkie of Westfield High School as the recipient of NCCJ’s 2012 Western Massachusetts Youth Human Relations Award.  Caleb is 16, a junior at Westfield High School, and has earned this award for his courage in action as well as his relentless leadership in making his school a safe place for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth through education and advocacy.

Caleb attended NCCJ’s premier social justice program, ANYTOWN, after finishing 8th grade.  Upon entering 9th grade at Westfield High, he immediately approached his guidance counselor, Alison Kelly, to talk about what he can do to bring what he learned at ANYTOWN back to his school.  He had just come out as gay to his family and friends (read his poignant story here), and immediately felt the prejudices of many around him.  He realized that the only way these prejudices can be changed is through education.  He led by example and allowed himself to be open about his experience and his struggle with coming out.  He bravely faced name-calling with kindness by allowing others to ask him questions, and seeing every act of cruelty as an opportunity to make someone an ally.

He joined the Gay Straight Alliance and recently became the President.  He organized a “teach-in” for Westfield High School faculty to learn more about the LGBT community and to teach them how to be effective allies.  He talked with the history department to include LGBT Rights Movements as part of the history curriculum.  He played an integral role in organizing Westfield’s first annual “A Mile in Your Shoes: A Walk for Change” that raised over $3,000 for the Kinship Fund. He convinced his school administration to bring NCCJ’s BRIDGES program to Westfield High three years in a row and as a result gained 75 peer allies committed to fighting prejudice at the school. Caleb also continues to be involved in various NCCJ programs.  He has been a counselor at the ANYTOWN program, was a speaker at The YES! Campaign Conference where he bravely shared his experience of being bullied in front of 400 youth, and has co-facilitated various workshops.

Caleb is truly a rock star and continues to inspire his peers and us with his leadership.  He embodies Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching of “be the change you wish to see in the world.”  We are so proud of his accomplishments and are excited to celebrate him at the 2012 NCCJ Human Relations Awards Banquet on June 12th at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

To celebrate Caleb at the 2012 Human Relations Award Banquet contact GiGi Paolantonio at 860-683-1039 ext. 105 or gpaolantonio@nccj.org.


Camp ANYTOWN – Social Justice Experience for Youth – Now Accepting Applications

22 Feb

ANYTOWN Banner!Want the experience of a lifetime?  Want to learn how to change the world?  Think you’re a leader? Or maybe you want to be a leader.  Want to meet other fantastic youth from the Northeast who give a spit about their communities?  Want a place where you can kick-back and just be YOURSELF?

Apply to be a delegate at 2012 ANYTOWN.  Program is open to all between the ages of 15-18.  Financial aid is available to ALL who apply and are accepted.

Click here for August ANYTOWN Brochure 2012

Click here for August ANYTOWN Delegate Application 2012

Want to be a counselor at ANYTOWN cause you finally figured out what can make a hippopotamus smile?  Counselors must have attended ANYTOWN previously.  Adults (teachers, school counselors, college students, youth workers, etc.) who would like to serve as advisors do not need to have attended ANYTOWN previously.

Click here for August ANYTOWN STAFF Application

Don’t take our word for it, see what Charlie Hoberman had to say about ANYTOWN below.  Or just google ANYTOWN on youtube and see what pops up!


My ANYTOWN Experience

Charlie Hoberman May 2010 ANYTOWN

Charles Hoberman, Hall High School

I applied to ANYTOWN to learn a little about prejudice and diversity.  I’ve always considered myself a socially aware person, especially in regards to discrimination, so I figured I’d fit in at a camp looking for “youth who are interested in exploring their own social identities and biases.”   I ended up learning a whole lot more than a “little.”  ANYTOWN not only opened my eyes in so many ways that I never expected, but it inspired me to actually do something with my newfound knowledge.

Prior to camp, I saw segregation occurring around me daily.  I observed black kids sitting together at lunch and white kids hanging out with each other in hallways, but never really did much about it.  I tried to surround myself with different types of people, and still do today, but besides that I never really tried to make a change.  In fact, today I would classify myself more as “part of the problem,” then the “solution.”  I thought it was cool to call things “retarded” and even laughed when my friends said some pretty racist things.  ANYTOWN completely changed that aspect of me.  On top of that, I was a fairly quiet kid, who spoke only when spoken to and never really made much of a stir.  I would hardly call myself a “leader,” and I highly doubt anyone else would either.  ANYTOWN changed that too.

So what makes ANYTOWN so life changing?  I’m still not quite sure.  Kelly and Muneer are amazing, of course, and so are all the rest of the staff and advisors.  But what really made ANYTOWN for me, I believe, were my fellow delegates.  I’m not sure how they did it, but the group that Kelly and Muneer managed to round up was simply amazing.  Everyone was so open to new ideas and different people, and if they weren’t at the beginning of camp they certainly were by the end.  I never thought a camp with such a strong goal and message to send would be such a blast, but it really was.

Looking through the post evaluation forms from the May camp which I attended, I’d say something like ninety-eight percent of respondents marked that they would like to attend a similar program again. Some mentioned that ANYTOWN “opened my mind to the rest of the world’s cultures and ideas/beliefs,” while others said they “made lifelong friends in 5 days.”  When asked what they would do to improve the camp, the most common responses were to make it longer and to allow for more time to sleep, while one eager delegate suggested that he needed to be added to the staff.  I know this is supposed to be a personal reflection on my experience, but one of the most crucial things to me was that everyone there sincerely enjoyed camp.  That’s why such a great community was formed in which such growth could be fostered, prejudices crushed, fun could be had and friendships could be formed.

*This essay was written by Charlie in 2007. Since then Charlie has graduated from New York University and continues to support the ANYTOWN community as well as be involved in various social justice activities.

NCCJ Announces Sophia Dzialo as the 2012 Youth Human Relations Award Winner!

17 Feb

Sophia Dzialo, 2012 NCCJ Youth Human Relations Award Winner

NCCJ is super excited to announce the 2012 Youth Human Relations Award Winner: Sophia Dzialo.  Each year NCCJ celebrates one youth leader from Connecticut and one from Massachusetts who has shown significant achievement in creating communities free of bias and bigotry.  Sophia is 17 years old, a senior at Hall High School, has shown determination, resilience, responsibility, and dedication towards carrying the mission of NCCJ into her community ever since her first experience at Camp ANYTOWN in 2009.  She is a quiet, yet a powerful leader; eagerly committing herself to causes she cares about and wants her community to care about also.  A vegan because of her love for animals, a strong supporter of women’s rights, and an ally for the rights of other oppressed groups most don’t think about, Sophia is a compassionate young leader who will surely make waves of change in the future.

As one of the key leaders of Hall High School’s ACTION Club, Sophia has dedicated herself to various projects, often taking on multiple responsibilities to ensure every projects success.  She volunteers for every opportunity her school has that speaks to community building, prejudice reduction, increasing awareness about an issue, and bringing people together in common causes.

Over the last three years, Sophia has been a counselor at ANYTOWN four times, co-facilitated workshops on gender, racism, and dating violence to groups of women at various middle and high schools across Hartford, worked with an organization to fight for the rights and respect for Native Americans, served as a youth leader for The YES! Campaign, fought to get fair trade products sold in her school, ran awareness campaigns to the plight of political prisoners and child soldiers through petitions, organized a school-wide pep rally with limited resources, and spearheaded her schools involvement in the Day of Silence. Through all of her extracurricular activities, Sophia remains strong academically and continues to inspire others by being a role model for the values she believes in.

NCCJ: What is your motivation to be so involved in change at your school? Why do you care about the projects you’ve invested so much time and energy in?

Sophia: I think that it is hard to say there is one motivation to get involved, I think that it definitely has been rooted to my experience at ANYTOWN. Knowing that it is possible to create such a safe environment has certainly pushed me to bring that experience into my community. Also, having such a supportive group of friends who I have worked with on everything certainly motivates you to continue. I can’t describe how I care, other than I just can’t imagine not caring about the people who are affected by the issues that I have dealt with. When you hear about the experiences that people go through, for example on reservations, it’s hard not to care. I would never want to be in their situation, and I hope that if the situations were reversed someone would care about me too.

NCCJ: One of the projects you worked was educating your school community about Native American Reservations. Why was this issue important to you?

Sophia: It started off with a comment made in one of our school newspapers about a similar relocation between super fans moving on a stadium and Native American’s being moved to Reservations. I wasn’t involved or even aware of the circumstances of reservations but I had known that the comparison wasn’t fair. In response, I worked with others to really research Reservations and the conditions there. I never would have imagined the horrific information that we learned. After hearing about the violence, abuse and neglect that have been demonstrated on the Reservations it is hard to forget about it. It has been shown that they are almost a forgotten race, and we couldn’t let that continue. It’s important me to pay attention to an issue that isn’t being talked about.

NCCJ: Sounds like empathy is often a first step to change. Would you say that’s correct?

Sophia: I can only speak for myself; however I think that for most others as well, empathy is the first step. It’s hard to make a change for something that you don’t fully understand or just can’t connect with. However, when I learn about a cause and then try to understand beyond just the facts I feel like I will be more motivated and dedicated to making that change.

NCCJ: You’re very right. What advice would you give to other young leaders who want to make change?

Sophia: I think that is a difficult question to answer. I would definitely say that committing yourself to an issue that is important to yourself or really research what you want to take a stand for. If you are working to change something that you can’t fully connect with, and then you aren’t going to enjoy making a change. Also, working with others that care about the issue is the most important thing. You can’t always do everything, which is the most important thing. Being able to rely on others really helps.

Join us in congratulating Sophia and celebrate her successes at the 2012 NCCJ Human Relations Award Banquet on April 26, 2012.

Why YES! Matters – A Video Series

6 Dec

Many of us have seen the It Gets Better videos that have inspired and given hope to countless people, young and old, that things get better and they do not need to take drastic measures to deal with the trauma of bullying and harassment.  I loved watching many of these videos, and quietly wished that I had seen some of these when I was in high school.  Though hope for a brighter future is an important factor in making life-altering decisions, it simply isn’t enough.  I had a young leader in 9th grade say to me, “I don’t know if I can wait three more years for it to get better.”  That hit a nerve in me.

I thought again about my experience in high school getting teased, pushed, and avoided consistently.  Then I heard a bunch of the young leaders around me talk about all the things they’re doing in their school as part of their GSA’s, Diversity Clubs, ANYTOWN clubs, etc. and it was clear to them that they weren’t telling any one to wait.  They were taking the initiative to make it better.  They were organizing after-school meetings with school faculty to educate them on LGBT terminology, they were leading dialogues on what bullying looks like in their school at their advisories, they were creating poster campaigns to educate people about the cycle of oppression, they were going up to people sitting by themselves at lunch, they were asking their school cafeteria to have a “diversity lunch,” and they were being true role models by celebrating the unique qualities that make them just them.

They were doing all this because they wanted that “hope” to come earlier, to come now.  And, these are the youth who envisioned, planned, and launched The YES! Campaign in October.  Why do they believe in the POWER of YES!?  Watch the Videos to find out and share your comments and feelings in the comments below!

(Muneer Panjwani)


Youth taking ACTION to end Youth Homelessness – Upcoming Event

1 Dec

Youth homelessness, but why?

3rd Annual Youth Homelessness and Hunger Summit

Three years ago, students at Classical Magnet High School in Hartford Connecticut, many of whom where ANYTOWN alums, got together to talk about youth homelessness.  They found that Youth homelessness is a problem nationwide, but it is hardly discussed. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that about 5 to 8% (about 1 to 1.5 million) of our nation’s youth experience one night of homelessness each year.


So they said they want to take ACTION to raise awareness and educate the community about this issue.  Under the leadership of Dr. Monica Brase (an ANYTOWN advisor for 5 years!) they put together a Youth Homelessness and Hunger Summit inviting community leaders and youth to participate learning the reality of youth homelessness and what we can do to stop it.  The last two years have been a huge success with many youth leaders facilitating workshops, engaging in discussions, all the while sleeping outside to see what if feels like to be homeless for one night.  Suffice it to say, it’s been a powerful learning experience for many.

The ACTION Against Youth Homelessness and Hunger (AAYHH) group is hosting the 3rd Annual Youth Homelessness and Hunger Summit at The Lyceum in Hartford Connecticut on December 10th, 2011 from 9:30AM-2:00PM.  The summit is open to youth and young adults ages 12 and up.  Youth leaders in AAYHH will facilitate workshops to broaden understanding of youth homelessness and hunger.  Resource materials will also be available.  For more information or to register, please go to http://www.aayhh.com or contact Dr. Monica Brase at 860-695-7203 or at classicalmagnetaction@gmail.com or Patrick Bracken at (860) 695-9238.

Homeless Youth Summit Dec 2011 Flyer

Get more facts here:  http://www.dowhateverittakes.org/why/

Rachael’s Advice: When YOU(th) reach out, people reach back!

23 Nov

Rachael Constantine

Just Reach Out To Somoene!

By Rachael Constantine

The most beautiful day of my life happened this past Thursday when my Intro to Early Childhood Education class got to go to an elementary school in Taftville, Connecticut. Being at the school started out dull. We sat around just observing the five through eleven year-old play on the playground. Then after about twenty minutes of being there, the providers of the child care center began a game of capture the flag, and us college kids were allowed to play too!

Our professor told us to pick a buddy so I looked to a group of kids and said, “Who wants to be my buddy?” And one girl bolted forward and reached for my hand. This girl was so beautiful and was so quiet! I was trying to get her pumped by telling her we’re gonna win and she didn’t smile or make eye contact or anything. She would not talk to me at all and so then I asked, “Are you okay?” She nodded. Then I asked, “You’re just shy, huh?” And she nodded more aggressively than before so I put my hand on her back and said, “Its okay. I was shy when I was younger too.” And then she finally smiled, but something gave me the vibe that this child still wasn’t as excited as I wished for her to be.


When they said go she didn’t even flinch where as other kids started sprinting. “C’mon! We gotta play! We gotta score a point!” She said she is “never able to get the flag,” that its “always the boys who score” and that “girls can’t play this kind game.” Righ there I realized that this girl, who was just shy of ten, was already getting the message that boys rule and girls drool. So, I got the mission in my mind to make this girl score a point for our team. My whole life vanished in my mind and I was completely set on making this girl see that girls are just as capable as boys to do anything they want.

My professor came up to us and said, “Get in there!” And I told her I had a strategy. My professor left and I looked at my buddy and said, “All right, here is the deal, we’re gonna get the flag, just start walking.” When we reached the line in the middle that separates the teams she stopped. I said, “Relax. Keep walking like you own the place. Just act all chill like you’re on this team.” So we crossed the line and walked really slowly over to the flag pretending to be disinterested in the game. We got to the hoola hoop where the flag was and I could see she was getting nervous that someone would find out we’re from the other team and put us in the jail. I got on my knees and looked her in the eyes and grabbed her shoulders and said, “Ya ready? This is all you. You’re gonna score, okay?” And she smiled at me like, “Wow, of course I would pick the crazy girl,” and nodded.

Like a flash of lightning I pulled a one eighty on my knees and I grabbed the flag when the guards were distracted and handed it to my buddy and screamed, “RUN!” She started running and I jumped up and I started trailing her so no one could tag her. “Run, Forest, run!” I was yelling, and then she crossed the line back to our side. POINT SCORED.

After she crossed the line she stopped and stared at the flag in her hands in awe. She couldn’t believe she just scored a point and apparently neither could any of the boys who stood there with their jaws dropped. Finally I made a huge scene and began pointing her out, yelling that she scored. All the other kids started to run over to give her high fives, hugs, and pats on the back. They told her great job, you did it, etc. And then this incredibly cute boy who looked to be her age walked over to her and said, “Hey! That was pretty cool.” She said thanks and as he walked away she blushed.

Then me and her decided to guard our flag so we could stand around and talk. The words began pouring out of her mouth. She told me thanks for helping her and that it was so exciting. More she talked the more happy facial expressions she had. It was so heart warming because I know I made this girls day. She became the cool kid at recess and I made a new little friend.

The point of why this was the most beautiful day of my life was because this was the girl playing by herself on the playground, this was the girl who believed she wasn’t as good as boys, this was the girl who was as silent as could be who stood with a pout, and I changed her life. When we left everyone was trying to play with her, she knew she could do anything that the other boys could do, and she was now talking loudly, animated and stood proud with a grin. It was beautiful because I know I taught her that girls are just as awesome as boys and also because it proved to me how reaching out to someone can really make a huge difference in their life.


Dear YOUth,
My goal for you is to look for that kid who seems lonely, who is always quiet, who you think just doesn’t smile enough, and reach out to them. YOUth reaching out can make a huge difference. You could find out that the person you always heard was “weird,” is really your future, life long, best friend, and they were just waiting for someone like you to come along and complete them. And they will complete you in return. Small acts of kindness go a long way. If you’re looking for good karma, a new friend, to save that person who is on the edge, if you’re looking to just be there for someone, reach out. YOUth have a voice. YOUth are more powerful than they want us to know. YOUth should share your awesome personality, your perspectives, your thoughts, yourself, with as many people as you possibly can. When YOUth reach out, people reach back. She reached for me, and I reached for her. YOU(th) CAN DO IT.


Rachael Constantine


My name is Rachael Angelina Constantine. I grew up in Wethersfield, CT, but just recently moved to Uncasville, CT. I’m a freshman at Three Rivers Community College with a major in Early Childhood Education. I am eighteen years young. I live with my Papa Bear and my puppy. Her name is Buddha, she is the love of my life. I like to write, read, and take long car rides with people who like to sing as loud and horribly as I do. My political view is peace, my religious view is love. I wake up. Do what I need to do. Do what I want to do. Say what I’m thankful for. And then rest my head. Oh! And I can say my ABC’s backwards.

PS-Rachael is also an alum of ANYTOWN. In her role as a counselor, she kicks as much ass as possible ensuring that no one is left out. We like her. A lot.

Kimmie’s Power: The POWER that I have now is the same power that I possessed when I was younger.

21 Nov

Kimmie Tran!

We (the YOUth) Have The Power!

By Kimtuyen “Kimmie” Thi Tran

From early on, it’s been conditioned into my being that there are things that I can do and things that I am not allowed to do. Do NOT touch that. Do NOT go to the bathroom without permission. Do NOT break the rules. You are forced into this box that conditions everyone to think that they are incapable of making decisions without someone’s approval, otherwise there are consequences. We are not allowed to break the molds that the society is trying to condition us into.

Why is the one thing we emphasize when kids are growing up is the negative powers of NO, DON’T, CAN’T, and SHOULDN’T?

Young adults feel like they have no power as they are maturing and growing. When Young Adults have to make a choice to do something, they quite often have to try to overcome the barricades of NO, DON’T, SHOULDN’T in order to accomplish something.

Thus, The YES! Campaign is the response and initiative to fix this NO epidemic! Instead of telling youth and young adults that they are not allowed to do something, we are giving the youth THEIR POWER BACK! Instead of constantly saying NO you can’t do this, NO you shouldn’t do that, we are saying YES! you can do that, YES! you have the strength, YES! you are able! This is important because young adults come into contact with many situations and issues that require them to feel like they have power. YES! gives them the power to recognize that they have all the strength they need to conquer any problem that comes into their path! The YES! initiative is Youth Establishing Strength to make a difference!

YES! is that positive initiative that is needed to remind youth and young adults like me that we can make a difference because we have that strength. Being a college student of color at an all-girls college that recognizes the strength we all possess is a reminder that YES! is that admonition for me that I have the strength to do anything I set my mind to. Power is not suddenly given to me because I am older or because I am in college. The power that I have now is the same power that I possessed when I was younger!

My ability to recognize my strengths are constantly emphasized through The YES! Campaign. YES! is the positive affirmation in my life that I am able and have the potential to do what I want to!!! I am able to break through barriers that have been placed on me because of what the society thinks I am capable of. I can show everyone the strength I have by standing up and saying YES!

YES! I can do what I want to make this world a better place!

YES! I have the strength to oppose the oppressor!

YES! I can stand up for myself, my beliefs, and others beliefs that I care about!

YES! with everyone standing together, we are a force that will become unstoppable because NO ONE will have the power to tell us NO WE CANT because we KNOW YES! WE CAN!


Kimmie Tran is a senior at Smith College studying Pre-Med, with a major in in Religion and a minor in Chemistry.  Kimmie continues to be passionate about social justice, enjoys volunteering at hospitals, cooking, and has attended NCCJ’s ANYTOWN program multiple times as a counselor along with being involved in activities on campus.

NCCJ Presents at the 3rd Annual Conference on Bullying & Safe Schools

6 Jun

Last week, the staff and youth of NCCJ were asked to present about their anti-bullying work in schools, and the new YES! Campaign, at the 3rd annual New Hampshire Conference on Bullying & Safe Schools. This year’s conference focused on new research and practice strategies to improve teaching about issues of safe space and inclusion within public schools. Among the many presenters at the conference, the NCCJ youth stood out as brillant, strong, and empowered. They captivated their audience with skits, fishbowls, and open discussion about the values of the YES! Campaign. Check out this video of their presentation!