Peers unite to help others navigate the influences of life
Published in the Sept. 16-29, 2015 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Marty Cheek
In 2007, Dori Prado’s daughter faced one of the struggles that challenge many teenagers. The 14-year-old girl confessed to Prado she had started smoking marijuana. Prado grew scared about the drug use and started blaming the friends her daughter was hanging out with for influencing her life in this direction. After some soul searching, she decided to give up the judgment and find a way to help the young people in the Morgan Hill community.
Dori told her father, Steve Prado, a one-time heroin addict who had turned his life around and became an alcohol and drug counselor, about the situation. The two decided to put on a workshop at Sobrato High School. Steve went to Dori’s daughter’s classroom to talk to the students… but it didn’t seem to be enough.
Dori then came up with the idea of putting on a friendly barbecue at Morgan Hill’s Community Park and inviting her daughter’s teenage friends to come and discuss how to face together life challenges such as drugs, gangs and prison that many young people encounter.
“We thought we’d have about 15, 20 kids. We had 75 people come that year,” Dori recalled. “It really inspired me to do it again. Right before that first year, my heart did soften about these kids. And I was thinking: what kind of homes do they come from? I know I’m trying to do the best for my daughter, and still I feel she’s out of control, right? What kind of homes are these kids coming from? Do they have the support at home?”
That park barbecue evolved into a community outreach event that has grown in popularity with hundreds of local young people and families. They gathered every October at either Community or Galvan parks to listen to the stories of young people who have overcome the temptations of drugs, alcohol and gangs, or deal with abuse or depression.
The 9th annual Living Above The Influence event will be held Oct. 10 at the Community and Cultural Center’s plaza.
“Living Above the Influence has really evolved into a community event that gathers resources for the community and gets speakers to give their testimonies that are encouraging and motivating,” Dori said. “It’s real life. These are things that are happening in our community youth and adults. A mother losing her kids to the system because of her own drug addiction. How does she overcome that? We do whatever we can to draw in the community.”
This year, bags of groceries will be given to the first 100 attendees. There will also be entertainment from the Mexican-America Azteca Dancers, rap singers, and poetry readings from young people. To make the day an extra fun celebration, participants can also win raffle prizes such as tickets to Gilroy Gardens Theme Park.
“Someone asked me, ‘Isn’t it like you’re trying to bribe the people to come?’ and I say, ‘Absolutely, I want them to come. I want them to hear these stories,’” Dori said. “And hopefully it touches their heart and helps them to make changes in their life if they’re struggling with those issues. And if they’re not struggling but they know somebody who is, maybe they can help that person out.”
Among the nearly 40 resource agencies that will be available for participants to meet is the nonprofit group Advent Youth Ministries which runs two homes in Morgan Hill for teenage boys and girls to stay at while they heal their lives. At the Living Above The Influence last year, the stories told were so powerful that a boy who was hooked on heroin and prescription pills sought help from Advent Youth Ministries, Dori said.
Living Above The Influence evolved a spin-off program to help young people develop life skills.
After the second year’s event in 2008 grew to 125 participants, Morgan Hill Recreation Coordinator Chiquy Mejia called Dori and asked if she might help bring a similar program to the Teen Center at the Centennial Recreation Center. At first, Dori was hesitant.
But she soon found herself working with the CRC staff to establish the “Chill Out” program where young people got an opportunity to hear the stories of people much like them who faced and overcame struggles with alcohol, drugs and gangs.
“The kids were very, very interested in these types of stories,” Dori said. “They were connected to it and they wanted to hear more. They’d say, ‘Bring somebody else in,’ because a lot of these testimonies are very heart-felt that they’d be crying when they heard about kids being taken away or whatever situation it might be.”
Chill Out now includes training young people on basic life skills such as helping them understand about good financial habits as well as the 41 Developmental Assets, qualities in a community that help young people succeed. It meets every Thursday evening at the Community and Cultural Center.
“This has developed because of Living Above The Influence and it’s something that I’m really proud of,” Dori said.
One thing Dori often points out to people is why the term “Living Above The Influence” was chosen.
“People ask me what that means. Is it talking about drugs and alcohol?” she said. “That’s not what it’s about. It’s about the influences of life. What I like to tell the kids is that if there is something that is affecting your everyday productivity, whatever that may be, you’re living under that influence. And I tell them we need to live above those influences.”
What: Living Above The Influence
When: Noon to 4:30 p.m., Oct. 10
Where: Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center,
17000 Monterey Road
Contact: (408) 390-9012 or email Livingabovetheinfluence07@gmail.com
Hollister, May 11, 2022 — There was something about the welcoming song that made us feel safe and welcomed while we gathered in a circle. Kanyon’s voice projected the love, sacrifices, and beautiful history of Indian Canyon that provided an invitation into the past allowing us to connect to the sacred land that is Indian Canyon.
As part of a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, youth had the opportunity to participate in a visit to Indian Canyon, a sacred ceremonial site for local indigenous people. Here, youth were immersed into this space by Kanyon “Coyote Woman” Sayers-Roods as she greeted the group of youth with a song passed down from her ancestors.
Kanyon “Coyote Woman” Sayers-Roods is Costanoan Ohlone and Chumash; she is proud of her heritage and her native name and is very active in the Native Community. “Indigenous peoples are everywhere,” says Kanyon. “There are beautiful rich histories everywhere. Predominantly it is place-based knowledge. That Place-based knowledge informs us. Place-based knowledge of our relationship to the environment and our ancestors. Indian Canyon serves as a safe haven for indigenous peoples everywhere and it is one step that we can reconnect to this land.”
Sam Bass, one of the Youth Alliance organizers who participated with youth during the visit to Indian Canyon said, “It was unlike any connection I’d ever felt before. There was a moment of stillness where we all felt unified as we heard Kanyon’s song.”
The opportunity to take youth out into the community and visit places like Indian Canyon was one of the culminating events that Youth Alliance was able to get back to after the pandemic hit. Providing this experience and oral histories to local youth is just another way to inspire and empower the next generation. “Providing our young leaders these opportunities allows them to understand how interconnected we all are and how we should learn from one another in order to move forward collectively,” said Rene Casas, the projects coordinator and current Director of Policy at Youth Alliance.
The project seeks to have youth at the forefront of civil liberties conversations and have them engage with local residents, organizations, and leaders on various topics. The first topic covered by the project was the Japanese internment on the Central Coast and its civil liberties impact. The project also included intergenerational conversations and historical research about the School-to-Prison Pipeline, Immigration, and our Native Communities on how they have been directly impacted by civil injustices.
“By bringing them into this space, we create an opportunity for young people to have a deeper role in engaging in conversations with elders and communities that have been directly impacted by civil injustices. The oral history of our Central Coast histories is a way for our youth to understand and connect local history with the current struggles for civil rights,” said Diane Ortiz, CEO of Youth Alliance.
Riana Gutierrez, a Youth Engagement Advocate with Youth Alliance who participated in the visit, spoke about what this visit meant to the youth group.
“Being a youth advocate assists our youth in developing their skills in education, social justice, and health. We want them to advocate for positive change in their world,” said Riana Gutierrez. “Providing them an opportunity to visit Indian Canyon for the first time and to learn about the history is instrumental in getting them to engage in civil liberties. This makes them realize how much they mean to their community and how they are the future leaders of tomorrow!”
Diane Ortiz, a strong supporter of civil liberties education, said, “Through this Civil Liberties grant, Youth Alliance is able to promote understanding, compassion, and intergenerational healing by engaging community youth. By visiting important historical sites like Indian Canyon and sitting in conversation with elders like Mas Hashimoto who lived through the Japanese Internment we hope to connect the past to the present fight for justice. We know there is much work to be done and investing in our youths capacity to lead this work is what YA is all about.
Through the California Civil Liberties Program, Youth Alliance was able to establish pathways of healing and opportunity for local youth to be engaged in educational activities and build skills about civil rights. Youth Fellows and other young leaders lead intergenerational efforts to educate and discuss historical and current civil liberties violations and rights. The project worked to inspire the next generation of youth to continue the open dialogue about civil liberties in a safe and meaningful way. This deeper understanding of history and civil liberties on the Central Coast teaches our youth to continue the dialogue towards intergenerational conversations with elders and other communities directly impacted by civil injustices.
To learn more about Youth Alliance, please visit: youthall.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and on our podcast “Our Voices” available on Spotify.
If interested in joining the youth coalition contact Alanah Martinez – email@example.com
To learn more about our current project or to learn more about Youth Alliance please connect with Rene Casas – firstname.lastname@example.org
About Indian Canyon
Indian Canyon–a wooded area nestled in the Gavilan Range, 15 miles south of Hollister, CA–is the only federally recognized “Indian country” between Sonoma and Santa Barbara. During the 17 and 1800’s Indian Canyon served as a safe haven for the local indigenous peoples who were being abducted/recruited/bribed/transported to the Missions with the Spaniards. The local Ohlone peoples knew the terrain and were able to traverse the territory into the secluded valley of Indian Canyon. Since then Indian Canyon has remained a safe haven, currently Ann-Marie Sayers and her daughter have opened up the Canyon for all Indigenous Peoples in need of land for ceremony.
About California Civil Liberties Program
The California Civil Liberties Public Education Program (California Civil Liberties Program) is a state-funded grant project of the California State Library. The California Civil Liberties Program funds projects that educate the public about civil liberties injustices carried out against communities and individuals in the past as well as today. The grant program supports the creation and dissemination of educational and public awareness resources concerning the history and the lessons of civil rights violations or civil liberties injustices carried out against communities or populations. These include, but are not limited to, civil rights violations or civil liberties injustices that are perpetrated on the basis of an individual’s race, national origin, immigration status, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
About Youth Alliance
Youth Alliance (YA) is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit serving youth and their families in San Benito County, and South Santa Clara County, CA that strives to create thriving and equitable communities through comprehensive, innovative and culturally relevant services that equip youth and families to become change agents in their own lives and in their community. The agency was founded in 1995 and began as a grassroots effort of committed volunteers and has evolved into an agency that had over 2,000 members and reached over 50,000 children, youth, and their families in 2020-2021.
YA’s mission is to assist young people in developing skills so that they can contribute to the social and economic betterment of their community. Our guiding principle is to provide culturally competent services to empower and enrich the families we serve while working as a model for collaboration and advocacy.