GIG SPARK: Help Inspire Compassion in Youth

Calling All Adults — The Youth Need You.

To teachers, parents and everyone dealing with a seemingly difficult youth in your life — please listen up. The youth need you.

You have the power to change the trajectory of a young person’s life.

I believe that everyone we encounter is brought here to teach us something, a life lesson. Recently a student, whom I will call “Jeff,” taught me one of the most important lessons in my professional teaching career. Jeff was one of my most apathetic students I’ve ever encountered in my teaching career. He was frequently tardy, turned in several late and missing assignments (I don’t accept late assignments) and when called upon, his answers clearly showed that he wasn’t paying attention.

I like to think that I’m a compassionate person and give people the benefit of the doubt most of the time — so I tried to get to the root of the problem by having three heart-to-heart conversations. I wanted to give up after our “Come to Jesus convo No. 4.” I couldn’t seem to break through.

I was torn, do I focus on the students who always show their “A-game” and let Jeff fall even further behind? How do I help someone who seems to not want to help himself?

It was time to meet with my department director and his coach (he is on an athletic scholarship). We told him about the opportunity he is receiving, scholarships, a great education with passionate teachers who are working in the real world and multimedia tools galore.

Turns out, Jeff grew up in a rough neighborhood, had no one to look up to (until college) and essentially, no one took the time to listen to him. No one ever told him that he matters.

We shared stories about how we once got off track — and how we realized that if we didn’t address the problem, it would come back disguised in different ways, shapes, forms, people and situations.

We got him on a “plan to get back on track.” And every week he delivered — and then some. He was more attentive in class, his work improved and he was engaged. The last class was monumental. Several students clapped. “Wow, you’ve improved so much. You should get an award for most improved,” a classmate said enthusiastically.

At the end of class, Jeff shook my hand and said, “Mr. Toan, thank you for not giving up on me. Everyone in my life has given up on me, except you. Thank you. I will promise to be better.” My body tingled with chills. Holding back tears I said, “You’re welcome, you have a lot of potential, I don’t want to see you waste it. You are capable of greatness, don’t give up on yourself.”

I often think of students and other kids like Jeff. What would they do, who would they be, if they were given the proper care, time and compassion?

Unfortunately, our youth face many challenges. Some are bullied, neglected or in this case, no one told Jeff, “I see you. I hear you. You matter.”

Photo: Jose Alfaro

For others, violence and crime have become the norm for too many kids. It’s the everyday reality for students I recently met at BAYCAT, a wonderful organization that serves youth in the Bayview and Hunter’s Point neighborhoods — the roughest neighborhoods in San Francisco.

Photo: Jose Alfaro

BAYCAT trains these talented, bright and eager-to-learn students multimedia/film tools and helps place them in production jobs.

As a multimedia teacher, I realized many of my students and the youth do want to be a part of something positive. They do want to help others. They just don’t know how.

That’s why Go Inspire Go (GIG) created the “GIG Spark,” A Lesson on Compassion” program. In an easy to follow lesson plan, kids can create short video stories told through their experiences. The goal is to use storytelling and social media to build community and spark civic engagement/action.

I was so excited when I was invited to speak to this group of incredibly talented, creative and intelligent students.

When I asked the kids how they felt about the rampant violence they see everyday, 15-year-old Christopher Vanegas innocently answered, “It’s normal.”

My heart sank.

Before BAYCAT, these kids who had no mentors and no hope. This is where you teachers can provide added value by joining GIG to make HUGE a difference.

Why we created the GIG Spark program:

1. Kids creatively take ownership by identifying a problem in their neighborhood/community.

2. Kids take action by immersing themselves in the change they want to spark. The lesson plan includes how to produce a 90-second video, documenting the action they’d like to see happen and to be the change.

3. We take action by sharing the message on a global platform.

One thing I love about teaching is that I learn as much from the students as they learn from me.

The youth care more than we think. Just ask Lily Gordon, who at age 11, asked for money in lieu of gifts, to fund her trip to Africa to teach the local Tanzanian women how build a brick oven so they can cook their own bread.

My former student Julian Cohen created a GIG video with the intention of helping a reverend build a high school in Haiti. The video inspired and galvanized a youth orchestra winter benefit concert, which led another class creating a PSA. In the end, 30+ students in Haiti are going to school this year because of Julian’s original video.

This is where we need your help.

If you’re an educator, or a part of a youth organization, I am inviting/challenging you to join this movement. If you’re interested in bringing the GIG Spark program into your class, please contact us at [email protected].

Please share this blog with a young person in your life.

We need to take action. We need to act now. The youth in your life do matter. They are our future.

What can YOU do?

Take Action

1. Share this message

2. Join our movement, connect with us @GoInspireGo via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

3. Do something: Spark change using your power/talents/network — and let us know — we may share the inspiration with our global audience.

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