The start of the South Coast Task Force on Youth Safety summit last Friday morning was marked by the burning of sage and other indigenous practices led by Dr. Roberto Vargas, this year’s summit facilitator. The South Coast Task Force on Youth Safety works to reduce gang activity in the South Coast area. This year’s summit was held in the Carrillo Recreation Center as a networking event for the many organizations who serve Santa Barbara youth and families.
To help facilitate the exchange between organizations, Vargas planned the day’s activities around his PorVida — “for life” — approach. PorVida sends the message of love — “see love, speak love, be love” — and that begins with one another, said Vargas. He asked participants to gather into groups of four and get to know one another by reflecting on their own experiences. Individuals passed around a talking stone, and alternated between sharing their stories and listening to others. They asked: “What is the community or youth work I do, and why did I choose this service?” and “What are special gifts or talents that I bring to our work?”
The South Coast Task Force is shifting its focus from strictly reactive to both reactive and proactive strategies, organizers said. The summit placed a strong emphasis on mindful communication to build personal esteem. Organizers were also encouraged to frame questions that empower youth as well as their co-workers, and to be active listeners. The exercises appeared to be effective as boxes of tissues were passed around the room during the activity. “It felt safe, but also vulnerable,” shared one participant. “It felt like love,” another said about their sharing experience.
Vargas’s activities were followed by a performance from Drama Kings, the Los Prietos Boys Camp theatre troupe, and later a Tai Chi session led by Ismael Huerta.