The theme of our 2023 Young Minds Matter conference is Transforming Our Communities Collectively. With a focus on collaborating with children, youth, and families as decision-makers and leaders in community transformation, the conference promises to be an energizing opportunity to learn from young change-makers.
On our most recent podcast we visited with two such young people, Erika Ngo and Alexander Lopez. They’re taking leadership roles in developing The Garden youth space in Houston’s Gulfton neighborhood in collaboration with Connect Community, a Hogg Foundation Communities of Care grant coalition member. They joined us to discuss the essential work of empowering youth to engage in civic discourse and their participation in the upcoming Young Minds Matter conference.
Erika and Alex both grew up in the Gulfton neighborhood of southwest Houston, one of the most densely populated and culturally diverse areas of the city. With a large immigrant population, over 50 languages are spoken in the community.
Currently enrolled as students at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, these young people are also working alongside St. Luke’s United Methodist Church Gethsemane Campus, a partner in the Connect Community coalition. As youth staff members at The Garden, they are engaging and enabling their peers to contribute meaningfully to the planning and development of a new youth community space. Through their leadership, they’re sharing their passion for empowering the youth of Gulfton and demonstrating the unique capacity, commitment, and resilience of young minds.
“I want my work to be where my heart is, to give back to my community, and to connect to others who share experiences like mine,” says Erika. “I want to motivate others, grow with them, and grow as a community.”
Having a Voice
One of the most significant projects the Connect Communities coalition has committed to is the creation of a local community center connecting residents to a variety of social services and resources, including health care, workforce training, and mentoring.
A dedicated youth space will also be a central component of the soon-to-be-complete center.
“We want the space to be a place where Gulfton youth feel welcome and feel a sense of belonging,” says Erika. “We want them to feel like it’s a safe place to engage in new activities, take advantage of new opportunities, and experience personal growth.”
With these goals in mind, Alex and Erika took the initiative to bring a collective youth voice into the planning and development process.
“Alex and I believe it’s essential for youth to develop a sense of ownership in the creation of the space, so we established the Youth Board,” says Erika. “Gathering neighborhood youth from diverse backgrounds, mindsets, schools, age ranges, and perspectives, the board made it possible to contribute our voices and help nurture this unique opportunity of having a youth center in our community.”
Engaging the Community
This year’s Young Minds Matter conference will be another opportunity for Erika and Alex to connect Gulfton’s residents to the future well-being of their community. They’ll be presenting demographic data on their neighborhood, grounding that data in community members’ lived experiences, and facilitating a workshop for people to share their stories with one another.
“We want to show what makes Gulfton unique through storytelling and giving people a chance to listen to each other,” says Alex. “We’ll be facilitating 1:1 question and answer sessions and making digital recordings to preserve these community voices.”
Looking to the Future
Through sustained effort, Erika and Alex are successfully making their voices heard in community decision-making. They’re empowering other youth to speak up as well. Drawing on their own lived experience growing up in Gulfton, taking on leadership roles in community development, establishing the Youth Board as a platform for civic engagement, and sharing their community’s unique stories at the Young Minds Matter conference, these young people are making a long-term investment in the well-being of their community. And it’s definitely an investment worth making.
- Young Minds Matter 2023: Transforming Our Communities Collectively
- Young Minds Matter 2021: Healing, Justice, and Connection for Mental Wellbeing
- Young Minds Matter 2019: Communities Connecting for Well-being
- Into the Fold Episode 125: A New Deal for Youth
- Into the Fold Episode 92: Youth Leadership
- Into the Fold Episode 88: Young Minds Matter
- Young Minds Matter: The Healing Future
- Young Minds Matter: Historical and Cultural Trauma
- Peer Support for Young Adults