The Grove’s mission is to promote learning and understanding of the human tragedy of the AIDS pandemic, both to current and future generation. Since its’ founding in 1991, the Grove by its very nature has served as a hands-on classroom for HIV/AIDS awareness and environmental education. A memorial by its very nature is created to inform future generations about a time in history when a community or group suffered great loss. Part of the Grove’s story incorporates how San Francisco responded to the AIDS crisis by creating what is now known worldwide as the “San Francisco Model.” This model was in part based on common sense, in part driven by desperation but always fueled by creative individual activism.
To further accomplish our mission, we implemented a youth programming component, which consists of the Community Youth Awareness & Advocacy Program and the World AIDS Day Youth Scholarship Program. The knowledge that today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders is what inspired the Grove to create programs which target youth and young adults specifically. Having entered the fourth decade of the epidemic, it is clear that if we are to sustain the San Francisco model, we need to continually improve it, and constantly train and recruit young people to follow in the footsteps of the early advocates and professionals.
The Community Youth Awareness & Advocacy Program fosters self-awareness by utilizing each participant’s ingenuity and collaborative skills, creating peer-to-peer skills building exercises reinforced by historical incidents/lives/activities. Participants are presented with contemporary case studies wherein relevant real life challenges (self-esteem, oppression, personal responsibility, community, etc.) can be viewed not just through the prism of a diverse group of their peers, but also using historical examples as a model for their response. The overarching belief of this program is that youth are the storytellers of the future. A critical component in all of this is that while the AIDS epidemic may someday end, the need for the Grove and the story-telling will not. In fact, they become an even more important part of San Francisco’s legacy.
The Grove’s Community Youth Awareness & Advocacy Program is designed to establish a cross-generational learning experience bridging leaders of the past with those of the future. Perhaps the most dynamic aspect of the program is its power to leverage the knowledge and experiences of the past to meet the needs of today and the future. The process of bringing young people together, to learn about their own community’s history while sharing their own personal challenges reinforces a sense of interconnectedness and a feeling of strength in the knowledge that they are more similar than different. In 2011, the Grove will host more than 200 youth, who come to the Grove either individually or as part of larger youth groups, such as high schools, organizations of faith or summer camps.
The Community Youth Awareness & Advocacy Program encourage awareness of individual activism in the early days of HIV/AIDS (“the San Francisco model”) and how such activism significantly improved the
lives of those living with the disease and the fabric of their community. In addition to highlighting the activism which founded the Grove, this program also highlights the similar activism which resulted in the founding of other AIDS Service Organizations such as Project Open Hand, Project Inform and Stop AIDS Project. This process generates confidence in the impact that they as individuals will make on their own communities.
The Grove’s youth programming culminates each year on World AIDS Day with the World AIDS Day Youth Scholarship Program. The Grove receives essays from across Northern California and scholarship winners come to tell their stories to over 400 attendees at the National World AIDS Day Observance in the Grove. The program is structured to attract essays from youth who represent a diverse cross section of communities, with special emphasis on ensuring that both diversity and financial need are given priority. This year, ten one thousand dollar scholarships will be awarded.
In the first two years of the World AIDS Day Youth Scholarship Program, submissions have highlighted the need for education and leadership in the areas of AIDS awareness and LGBT youth empowerment. In 2010 over 200 high schools from throughout the Bay Area were invited to participate in the program. Essay submissions were also received from youth who had participated in the Community Youth Awareness & Advocacy Program. A guided, educational tour of the Grove is available to all students who intend to present an essay for consideration.
The power of a young person standing on stage before many who paved the way for them to have a voice is powerful, coupled with community “elders” listening attentively to how HIV/AIDS impacts the younger generation. The following is a short excerpt from one of last year’s scholarship recipient’s essay:
“Overall, the Grove stands as a place for many things. It is awareness and prevention for youth who are simply uninformed about AIDS. It serves as a place of grieving for those who lost someone close to them through AIDS. It also serves as hope. It gives us hope that one day there will be a cure. It gives us hope that one day we will not live in fear of AIDS.” – Miguel Ochoa
The significance of increasing awareness among youth as to the history of their community’s evolution is vital to ensuring its long-term health and vitality. Through the Grove’s youth programming activities, both youth and the community at-large benefit through a clearer understanding of the history of HIV/AIDS and its impact from the early days to present. Additionally, through spotlighting of past community leaders and activists, youth are exposed to a model to consider as they navigate their own roles as future community leaders. And finally, through the World AIDS Day Youth Scholarship Program, we support continuing education for marginalized, at risk and other college-bound youth.
By its very existence the Grove transforms stigma into dignity, grief into resolution and death into life. The Grove believes that bringing youth together with diverse backgrounds, talents and experiences ultimately leads to diverse thinking, new approaches to life challenges and healthier community collaborations. The Grove will always remind future generations that through community and compassion one finds a potent antidote to misery and prejudice. The Grove’s youth programming provides important historical lessons which increase youth awareness of HIV/AIDS, while empowering them to take action to improve the communities in which they live.