We are often humbled by our experiences here at Hidden Villa as youth workers and are so grateful to be able to share this special place with some many young people in our community.
Our partnership with the Redwood Environmental Academy and Leadership program offers us the chance to connect to youth in their program four times throughout the year, including an overnight experience. One of the participants said, "All my problems disappeared when I was working with the animals they just left me. So, when I left Hidden Villa, I was happy and light. The group exercises were amazing, getting to know the group, plus the opportunity to hike and get some fresh air—amazing." We strive to engage students in experiences that are new, fun, and promote a healthy interaction with nature and each other.
One of the REAL program coordinators explained to us that, “REAL students confront numerous challenges on a daily basis: depression, poverty, violence, death of friends and family, disappointment with academic progress. Opportunities to experience a different reality where they can define themselves as a part of nature are truly uplifting and transformative. The peaceful setting of the ranch, the calming sensation of holding young goats, and the opportunity to explore new parts of themselves is priceless.” This is truly a powerful partnership that is impactful to both program participants, chaperones, and our Hidden Villa Youth Development team.
We appreciate your continued support that allows us to offer Hidden Villa programs and experiences to youth in the REAL program and throughout the Bay Area.
The school year is winding down and our last program is coming up this week. It will be a three day, two night retreat for a middle school from San Francisco. These are always exciting opportunities to truly build relationships with the youth, get them out on hikes, make garden burritos from the education garden, strengthen their compassion muscles, and connect to our natural world. What a great way to end this school year!
Our Youth Development intern, who comes to the end of her time here at Hidden Villa in the coming weeks, speaks to some of the work that she has experienced: We challenge our youth through teaching them wilderness survival skills and team-building, both on the high ropes course and on the ground initiatives. Through engaged discussion of hidden food costs, including unjust treatment of farmworkers and inaccessibility of healthy foods for all, students learn about relevant issues of justice around the United States as well as food deserts in their own communities. Many come to recognize their power to create change as consumers and future voters.
It is Youth Development’s hope that after youth leave this land, they walk away having learned something new and also feeling empowered to create change in their own lives and communities.
The Youth Development department at Hidden Villa kicked off the year with a bang. We hosted our first ever Volunteer Training where seven volunteers joined us to learn about how they can be supportive chaperones, especially for our multi-day retreats. We’ve also been busy attending conferences and workshops, gaining skills and perspective along the way. This work and preparation has paid off as we start a new season of learning and growing with Bay Area youth.
Most recently we visited a Redwood City high school to meet the students from an AP Biology class that will come for an environmental program at the beginning of February. We did a short program for four classes, one after the other. The students seemed to deeply enjoy meeting some of our hens and participating in one of our environmental activities. When students saw an egg in the chickens’ cage, one asked me, “Is it alive?” We talked about that as a class.
Taking the class outside, Jay led an activity in which students simulated the process for retrieving water from their original sources. One group transported water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to a Bay Area tap. The other groups, the Southern Sierras and the Colorado River, delivered water to Los Angeles. “That was fun!” they said at the end of the activity. We talked about water as a precious resource and all of the work that goes into transferring it from the source to our homes. We are looking forward to seeing these students soon to explore water and land as resources with them while we have some fun.
If you’d like more updates on Youth Development at Hidden Villa check out our blog where we’ll be posting information about programs and impactful experiences.
Monday classes are a vital part of the Hidden Villa residential intern program. These day-long classes better inform us about the many facets our work at Hidden Villa and the ways we are helping to create a more just and sustainable future. Two of our recent classes focused on organic farming practices and social justice. They challenged me to think about the ways in which our work connects to larger food systems and the ways that food justice sits at an intersection with an understanding of social justice.
Additionally, I was able to attend a food justice panel in San Jose that highlighted organizations and leaders in the food justice and food access movement. These leaders are helping teach local residents how to plant home gardens, supporting farmers, teaching agriculture and food justice courses at the university and overseeing a community garden initiative. The conversation ranged from culturally preferred foods to food hubs as an alternative access point, from the price of food to community-building through food education. This conversation directly connected to the Monday classes that I’d experienced at Hidden Villa.
As I listened to these participants speak. I reflected on my location in the food system. My time at Hidden Villa has given me the opportunity to reconnect to food as something that is a part of our ecosystem, our environment, and not just something that is consumed. I am learning the ways in which local, organic, sustainable food plays into food justice. At Hidden Villa food justice means supporting neighboring farmers make a living wage, eating foods that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, supporting farmers that use farming practices that nurture the earth and soil by using crop rotation, attracting helpful pests and repelling harmful pests, growing crop covers to regenerate the top soil, and being conscious of water consumption.
I’m so proud to say that I work here at Hidden Villa and that we are participating in the food system and addressing food justice, if only in our particular way; producing food and asking young people to consider the choices that they make and the ways in which these choices affect our future, our bodies, our minds, our environment, and our communities. Hopefully in having such conversations it allows us all to start to reformulate our values or beliefs in order to change our actions, recognizing that change in the food system first starts with our understanding and connection to the food we eat.
“As assistant counselors in training, we are ambassadors of the Hidden Villa legacy who strive to both learn from and teach about our experiences at Hidden Villa, not only to other campers, but to our friends, families and communities." -Assistant Counselors in Training Mission Statement 2013 Three weeks ago I met Hidden Villa’s Assistant Counselors in Training (ACT) participating in the first session of their training course. These young people, the majority of whom have attended Hidden Villa camp for nine or more years, emphasized that, “Hidden Villa is not just a summer place, but a place where people can find themselves.” In the training they are learning, sharing and reflecting on their deeply impactful experiences in hopes of creating the same value for future campers.
As I listen to these mature, young adults speak about their experiences I’m encouraged by their ability to consider the life lessons they’ve learned throughout the years at Hidden Villa. “We’re here to learn to be mentors and through the process we’ll be able to develop our leadership skills.” Leadership, as they explain, entails developing the skills to have a healthy dialogue, learning to be professional, and recognizing how our attitudes affect others. They recognize the importance of having a safe space where they can share, learn, and grow. “Sharing is nourishing. If you have an idea and want to make change, you can inspire others. Then, you’ll start a movement of awesomeness.” They also realize that they are leaders for one another, “If someone is not getting it, we can mentor one another.” What a beautiful understanding of the mutual learning processes at play!
Often, these conversations about both leadership and mentorship are happening at school, but the youth don’t feel they are often able practice these skills in real life situations. “As ACT’s we are getting ready for actual jobs. This is an internship where you get experience supervising kids, animals, being responsible for other individuals.” As they discuss their thoughts, I see their energy and excitement rise. They are a group of teenagers that recognize their role in the local and global community and are eager to go out and make change.
Sofía Pablo-Hoshino is a San Francisco native and the newest Development Intern at Hidden Villa. She enjoys knitting, long conversations about life, and cilantro on any and all foods. She also recently harvested her first beet, ever!
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