Even those who tend to view high school as their “glory days” will concede that being a teenager is kind of tough.
“You’re going through physical changes,” Susie Backscheider said. “You’re trying to fit in at school. You’re trying to figure out who you are.
Backscheider coordinates Bethel Park-based South Hills Interfaith Movement’s youth mentoring program, which primarily serves a special segment of the population: refugees from other countries who are adapting to life in the United States.
“At home, you speak one language. At school, you speak another language,” Backscheider explained. “At home, you eat different foods. You wear different clothes. So trying to figure out who you are is a huge challenge.”
Through the program, in which more than 50 high school and middle school students participate in weekly sessions at SHIM’s Prospect Park Family Center in Whitehall, mentors help fellow students by planning activities, leading discussions about positive decision making and providing guidance about options for their futures.
“A lot of them have goals to go to college, and they’ll be the first ones in their families to go to college,” Backscheider said.
To add a new dimension to the program, South Hills Interfaith Movement has received a grant from the Sprout Fund through the the Pittsburgh nonprofit’s 100 Days of US project, designed to help people respond to pressing issues facing the nation during the first 100 days of the new presidential administration.
The grant money will go toward an initiative called “Two Cultures, One Me,” intended to provide refugee teens with an opportunity to share their personal narratives through digital media.
“The kids would get to meet with a professional writer, who can teach them about how to effectively tell their story and communicate their story,” Backscheider said.
A photographer will help with visual depictions.
“They might, in one picture, be wearing their cultural clothes. In another picture, they might be wearing a soccer uniform, or hanging with their friends,” Backscheider explained. “It helps them explore who they are and represent that for the public.”
As part of the application process for the grant, SHIM submitted a two-minute video featuring students in the mentoring program. They speak in part about their lives before they arrived in the United States from refugee camps, mostly in the southeastern Asian nations of Nepal and Thailand.
“They love it,” Backscheider said about their new home. “Kids pick up on English a lot more quickly than the older people, so their English is great. They all have cellphones. They all have Facebook. They listen to Justin Bieber.”
In the meantime, the project statement submitted to the Sprout Fund for “Two Cultures, One Me” addresses concerns for their future here:
“Multicultural integration in the United States is under fire. Fear-mongering and prejudice are rampant. It’s time to empower and give a voice to young adults to change the discourse in this country.”
For a list of the 100 Days of US grant recipients, visit ideas.100daysof.us.