MODESTO -- High school students from Canada, Mexico and closer to home did crafts with neighborhood kids at The Salvation Army Red Shield Center in south Modesto on Friday. The play date, as well as their ride to the center using city buses, was meant to give them a boots-on-the-ground feel for the problems of the poor.
Their mission: Find ways to help.
The teens are with Modesto Sister Cities International, one of six groups given grants by the U.S. State Department to help teens create grass-roots programs to address problems of poverty and the environment.
This week, four high schoolers from Modesto met here with three teens from Vernon, Canada, and five from Aguas Calientes, Mexico two of Modesto's seven sister cities, said local leader Adrian Harrell.
They made play puppets with the Red Shield kids and the group donated a puppet theater to the center, which is adjacent to Hanshaw Middle School.
Teens from Canada said Modesto's farmers market and the tasty fruit grown locally were the highlights of their trip. Tanner Lorenson, 15, of Vernon said her group plans to focus on water conservation for its project. Tanner said her home area has the least amount of water, "but we use the most."
Froylán Gonzalez Sanchez said his town of Aguas Calientes needs more opportunities for youth in programs like this. Plans are forming, but he hopes to get more students to apply to programs such as Sister Cities, and to work on their English skills.
Modestan Zane Hanson, 15, said his group decided to recruit 25 bilingual high school students to mentor English learners in junior high. Hanson said he realized English skills would help kids throughout their lives, improving access to jobs and education.
Project overseer Rosie Raya said members of Hanson's group plan to draw mentors from high school social clubs to be sure the effort will survive after they've graduated. Having it designed and run by kids, she said, will be key to its success. "It's driven by their passion," Raya said.
Next, most of the group will travel to Washington, D.C., to learn how government tries to help those in poverty. The teens have a year to develop and implement plans for homegrown solutions.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.