CuidArte: The art of thriving; Nurturing resilience in immigrant youth.

What if immigrant youth gained inner agency to tackle trauma and prejudice, turning frustration into fuel, to become contributing residents.

Photo of Ivette Guillermo-McGahee
5 3

Written by

Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

As a Mexican Immigrant with Deaf parents and Deaf siblings, I faced condescending attitudes, social exclusion, limited access to work and education. However, I found supports that helped transform grief into fuel for building bridges, and undo internalized negative beliefs about being Deaf, Mexican or poor. this restored my sense of self-agency and compassion. I know from experience that with support we can tap into our strength and creativity to deal more skillfully with our challenges. Convinced of the potential for transformation, I founded Allies in Caring, to lift up immigrant youth who uprooted from their home, fleeing violence and economic distress and to help them thrive. One of these, LM, overcame traumatic experiences, and dealt with the prospect of her family’s deportation, by transforming her anger into fuel for excelling. LM tackled her grief over being denied college financing because of her undocumented status. She then nurtured existing skills and opportunities, and applied for a DACA work permit. LM is now paying for college. Or TJ, a Deaf youth, who escaped genocide and despite struggling with PTSD, learned to communicate in sign language and cooperate with authority, staying out of the justice system is now enrolled in HS and working during the summer. I am inspired by these youth, and those who despite the burdens and limited resources, create environments that affirm immigrants as valuable individuals and help us find a way out of grief and anger.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

Mexican

Website

http://www.alliesincaring.org

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • New Jersey

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Hammonton

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • New Jersey

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Hammonton, Atlantic City, Camden, and Vineland

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Immigrant youth are among the most vulnerable to experience depression, school dropout, substance use, early childbearing and criminalization. Why: 1) traumatic events forcing them to leave their country; 2) trauma during transit to the USA; 3) distress during resettlement; and 4) substandard conditions in their community due to unemployment, inadequate supports & education, barriers to social and clinical services, 5) prejudice and hostility, and 6) Language barriers. Migration and the hardships that come with it are only increasing. With a sense of urgency, our project builds resilience as a lever to protect immigrant youth against the devastating influence of risk factors. It helps them access internal resources and networks of support necessary to carry on in spite of adversity. It helps youth fulfill the human yearning to belong, and participate as contributing members of society.

As major demographic shifts continue to take place in the United States and around the world, it is important to build protective factors that support the successful acculturation and adaptation of immigrant youth. There are increasing concerns regarding maladapted  immigrant youth, including;  underemployment, gang activity and their radicalization, if immigrant youth turn against the larger society.

Our solution is to develop partnerships; starting with schools, the context in which the adaptation and acculturation processes occurs first. Our staff comprised by trauma informed, mental health professionals, engages youth, care-givers and teachers in a program that builds protective factors to facilitate positive acculturation and adaptation:

  • 1- )  Supports the development of a positive bi-cultural identity, and fosters the ability to cope with discrimination. Through a more in-depth exploration of their ethnicity, values and beliefs, immigrant youth  can replace imposed negative ethnic identities, and ascertain an identity that increases feelings of industry and competence. Studies indicate that a strong and positive ethnic  identity discourages children from engaging in risky behaviors and buffers the effects of discrimination (Umana-Taylor, 2006), Bi-cultural individuals are likely to be the most well adjusted because they are competent in navigating both the dominant and heritage cultures, they have social support networks from both cultures, and the process of negotiating two cultures may translate to greater integrative complexity, intellectual flexibility, and creativity (Benet-Martínez, Lee, & Leu, 2006; Tadmor, Tetlock, & Peng, 2009). How: Youth participate in a four-part framework (emotions; implicit bias; tribes; and power) for understanding and overcoming racism and marginalization, (Based in the "Deep Diversity "pathway offered by Shakil Choudhury) This group work removes the illusion that the experience is somehow inherently their problem alone and that they are the only source of their own difficulties, rather than problems in the society at large. Emphasis is placed in developing: 1) Self-awareness of blind spots and unconscious bias. 2) Mindfulness- developing the ability to witness and interrupt unhelpful habits of thinking and replace them with new habits. 3) Self-regulation – developing the inner power and skillfulness to master our own emotional responses, to return from a state of being reactive to one of emotional resilience, 4) Empathy – tapping into the capacity to build bridges of understanding and kindness. 5) Self-education – actively seeking out stories, data and facts, rather than relying on assumptions from the dominant culture. 6) Conflict skills – developing skills, comfort and ease with conflict – an inevitable by-product of working across difference,  to lean rather than contract or withdraw.


  • 2.)   Supports the development of social and emotional core competences that facilitate psychological adjustment and socio-cultural competence. Youth participate in a culturally adapted  8-12 week  program based on the Learning to BREATHE (L2B) curriculum developed by Patricia Broderick. L2B is an evidence based program  recognized by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) as meeting research criteria for effective SEL programs.(www.learning2breathe.org).  Emphasis is placed in developing  a) Self-Awareness - accurately assessing values and strengths; b) Self-Management - regulating one’s emotions to handle stress, persevere and express emotions appropriately; c) Social Awareness - empathizing with others, dealing with similarities and differences, and utilizing available resources; c) Relationship Skills - establishing relationships based on cooperation, resisting social pressure, managing interpersonal conflict and learning how to seek help; d) Responsible Decision Making – basing decisions on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate social norms and respect for others. How: During each meeting,  participants engage in at least three of the following activities a) education, b) group discussion. c) attention training (Noticing thoughts, emotions, sensations, impulses, choices), d) movement exercises, e) relaxation exercises, f) role-play, g) dialogue, h) art and expression projects, i)games.  Each meeting, new skills are introduced and prior-learned skills are reinforced through practice. 


  • 3.)  Promotes familial cohesion facilitating conversations that help them  manage conflicts related to  the reunification process, parenting training also helps address acculturation gaps. Through this process they  come together to  navigate their challenges. According to LAMHA (Latino Adolescent Migration, Health and Adaptation Project) data, only 30 % of caregivers migrate with their children, most youth have experienced separation from a caregiver for extended periods, Additionally, a major issue is the acculturation gap that emerges between children and their parents. Children are acculturated quickly through school, and involves changes in language, behavior, attitudes and values. but their parents may never acquire sufficient comfort with the new language and culture to become socially integrated into their new country. In addition, immigrant children may have few opportunities to participate in and learn about their heritage culture. As a result, immigrant parents and children increasingly live in different cultural worlds. Such “acculturation gaps” have been linked to family conflict and adjustment. How: In a group a format we facilitate conversations among parents about how to manage the power imbalance that results from children’s more rapid acculturation combined with the day-to-day realities of economic and social marginalization. They also explore ways to adjust their discipline practices to be consistent with the emphasis within Latino culture on respect and deference to authority but at the same time emphasizing positive parenting strategies that both enhance compliance and promote healthy child development within developmental contexts in the United States. These meetings help build social support networks to compensate for loss of extended family support when parents come to the United States. On the other hand, youth are also engaged in conversations about how to navigate the cultural values of their parents, their Latino heritage, and the demands of U.S. youth culture simultaneously. Youth explore ways of communicating with their parents that are still respectful in spite of their higher rates of acculturation.


  1. 4.-)  Engages peers, family members, neighbors, and others in the community who are impacted by immigration. How: They are invited to participate in information-sharing/ dialogue sessions, in which we facilitate conversations about the immigrant experience, and the challenges that teachers, mental health providers, parents and children are experiencing. This increases understanding and empathy and diminishes the hostility triggered by fear of the unknown. It helps them access the collective intelligence to work in resolving conflicts and promoting integration, and to develop sustainable strategies that benefit the whole community.


One core aspect,present in all our efforts for ensuring that immigrant youth, their families and communities thrive, has to do with the principle that underlies our work: We understand and have empathy for the human impulse to resist the disruptive and uneasy changes that immigration precipitates, (by attacking, scapegoating, trying to convert, withdrawing, etc.), our work has to do with, plating seeds to help us embrace and manage disruptive change, connecting with its potential for development and transformation. Although disruptive in the short-term, immigration in the long-term, historically has always been a positive catalyst for change; sparking, entrepreneurship, innovation, social justice, cultural enrichment, and more. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • Religious minorities (non-Christian)
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

This project is possible with support from the NJ Center for Hispanic Policy & Development (CHPRD)

Year Founded

2015

Project Stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

MI was disruptive and aggressive during classes. Through the course MI noticed negative predictions and helpless thoughts, as we explored discrimination, he discovered that retaliation had failed to eliminate shame and assert control. While he continued to develop awareness of thoughts and emotions suspending judgement, he was more able to surf the waves of his grief of being separated from his father who has been in and out of jail. Towards the end, MI became more gentle, and mentioned that he felt connected to his father in his heart. He has new friends that he can talk to, is cooperating with his teachers and communication with his mother has improved. With new understanding, his teachers are facilitating school parental involvement.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In our three pilot programs, 61 youth and their families expressed the following outcomes: "I know now how to relax", "I'm OK with sadness", "When I judge, I don't believe my thoughts, I try to find out", "I don't get as angry", "I listen to my daughter", "I help at home". Additionally, recognizing the shared loss of extended family as a result of migrating, parents built social support networks, becoming a mutual resource for feedback, advice, and guidance. Teachers expended extra energy and resources to engage parents. Our future goal is to develop strong methods of measurement and include a comparison group, so that with continued replication, this program can become an evidence-based and culturally-affirmative strategy, to help immigrants from other ethnicity. Participants completed a pre and post-test, however, we learned that pre-post storytelling is more accessible to them.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $500k - $1m

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We will continue to partner and seek funding from local and state organizations, such as School Districts, Community & Health organizations. Additionally, we will partner with social entrepreneurs and impact investors, to develop an enticing and fun program that families and communities will be willing to pay for, offering a healthier, enduring and greater kind of gratification.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

We offer targeted prevention. Minimize barriers to involvement; our trauma informed staff shares the participants' language, culture and life experiences. Teach by example, we practice mindfulness in our daily life. Provide a framework for understanding and overcoming discrimination. Collaborate in implementing and adapting evidence-based practices, ensuring sensitive and sound practices. Our holistic approach, aims to engage and build protective factors for all stakeholders affected by immigration; youth, their families, and their host communities (school, police, employers, church,etc).

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Immigration and youth violence are a growing problem globally; a promising change is, the increased recognition of our interdependence and the need to transform how society responds to complex problems. There are new ways to empower communities (Social media), new efforts to transform the quality of awareness and attention that people apply to their actions (Contemplative practices), efforts to engage all stakeholders in developing their capacity to prevent violence and develop protective factors (Art of Hosting, Hubs, ULabs). So that together we can more skillfully face increasing uncertainty

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Program Design Clarity

The South Jersey immigrant Hispanic community are our main beneficiaries. Our activities include: education, group discussion, attention training, movement exercises, relaxation exercises, role-play, dialogue, and art and expression projects. These are adapted for our community from the Mindful Schools and Learning to Breathe (L2B) curricula. Sessions are conducted once or twice weekly at schools and family community centers. Services are delivered by staff trained. Participatory dialogues are facilitated using Art of Hosting & U Theory methods.

Community Leadership

We are building capacity to expand this program by harnessing the collective wisdom and self-organizing capacity of the community; the program is facilitated by Latinos for Latinos. Youth, caregivers and teachers who complete our program are invited to participate in further training and development to become facilitators for new cohorts. We invite all stakeholders to take part in activities that facilitate understanding and integration.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 12+

Spread Strategies

We will build collaborations with promising programs addressing the integration of immigrant youth, such as the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, & Education among others. We will continue to work with Patricia Broderick and other Mindfulness and SEL program facilitators and researchers, to develop an evidence-based curriculum for immigrant youth and their families. Will develop adaptations for other minority groups including Deaf.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

A strong sense of self is cultivated by helping youth connect with their internal compass, empathy & resiliency. Belonging is cultivated by helping youth develop a bi-cultural identity, within which they can experience the richness of both cultures & become more connected with peers, family & other community members. Youth gain purpose through recognizing they are valuable within society & have the ability to influence their environment.

Leadership Story

As the ears and voice for my family, as well as the Deaf and Latino community, I braved discrimination growing up, and influenced change by digging up the good-will inherent in us. At 19, I founded a volunteering community; acting on what mattered to us, we accessed new skills, knowledge and support. As a CEO, trustee,advocate, psychotherapist, teacher and mother, my aplomb has been pierced many times. I rely on contemplative practices to surf failures and delights, and group work (http://sctri.org) to expand my awareness and my capacity to integrate all systems and perspectives.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Awarded by Stockton University as a partner in providing valuable off-campus learning opportunities to their internship students.

Organization's Twitter Handle

@alliesincaring

Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

https://www.facebook.com/alliesincaring

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

http://linkedin.com/in/ivette-guillermo-mcgahee-00110093

5 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Christine
Team

Ivette,
Thank you for sharing your approach. CASEL has a sound research base supporting social emotional learning and programs like yours are definitely needed. You may want to check us out-- the Heart Centered Learning Initiative. We are expanding principal leadership in this arena as well as the use of a tool we have developed to help schools vision, plan for, implement, and refine heart centered learning. (http://www.edimprovement.org). Let's keep in touch, there may be ways our projects can intersect.

Photo of Ivette
Team

Christine,
Thank you for taking the time to read about our program, and for sharing the link to learn more about what you are doing. It is quite impressive what you have done and the center.  I'd love to stay in touch, especially to learn more about steps you are taking to expand leadership. 

Photo of Christine
Team

Thanks Ivette. Best wishes going forward!

View all comments