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Social Media Campaign Highlights Berkshires’ Youth

Lucy McMahon
Humans of the Berkshires
Lucy McMahon

A social media effort to showcase the stories and successes of young people has taken root in the Berkshires. “Humans of the Berkshires is a countywide initiative that is highlighting the diverse and rich lives of youth across the county,” explains  Nataly Garzon,  the youth development coordinator for Berkshire United Way. Working with Kat Toomey, an AmeriCorps ambassador at Berkshire Children and Families, the two have been compiling the stories of young people throughout the region and telling them on Facebook and Instagram.

“The interview questions are…what you passionate about?” Toomey explained. “What inspires you? What are your aspirations? Where do you see yourself in the near future?”

More than 1,800 people have liked the Facebook page and the Instagram account has more than 350 followers since they launched in late May. Most of the youth featured come via recommendations from schools, but Toomey says anyone can make suggestions.

“We’re looking for any kind of success story or anything that is important to the youth that they feel that they would like to share,” Toomey said. “We’re not just looking for that A-plus student. We’re looking for people who have either overcome something or just want to share something positive about where they’re going in their future.”

While the idea of featuring personal stories of everyday people on social media started in New York City, Garzon says this specific effort is in response to data collected through the Berkshire Youth Development Project.

“We found that around 70 percent of 8th graders believe that no adult in their community is recognizing them or seeing their achievements or aspirations,” Garzon said. “That was really devastating. That data has remained stagnant since 2007 when we started the survey and it only increases in 10th and 12th grade.”

By telling young people’s stories to a wide audience, the goal is to show that there are adults who recognize and appreciate youth and their successes. Garzon says one story that sticks out is a girl who wants to teach special education classes, having experienced ADHD and learning disabilities herself.

“What was great was to hear the community feedback,” Garzon said. “Immediately there was an adult in the community that said ‘It’s amazing that you’ve developed these skills. I would love to learn more so that I can help more own children.’ It’s recognizing that youth are experts in certain things and are positively contributing to the community. I hope that’s ultimately the impact that we’re going to have.”

So why share your story? Fourteen year-old Lucy McMahon has an answer for that.

“I just wanted to say that I am a lot more different than you might initially realize,” McMahon said. “Sometimes I feel like for a lot of kids that’s often overlooked. You’re kind of put in one box from that start. I think a lot of people would really appreciate the chance to be able to say ‘I’m not just pretty or smart. I’m so much more. Let me tell you about it.’”

McMahon’s advice for her peers is do something that scares you because you will be happier once you have.

“Like this interview, for example,” McMahon admitted.”I was terrified to do this interview, but I thought I will be so much happier if I do it than if I don’t do it. I want to be able to overcome the things that are holding me back. They are fear of not being good enough and fear of failure. In nine months, I just want to be done with them and say ‘I will not let those control my life. I’m not going to be afraid of failure or not being good enough. I’m going to go for it and whatever happens, happens.’”

Garzon and Toomey plan to complete 180 interviews in one year. Eventually they hope to turn the project over to the community so that adult mentors can tell young people’s stories, therein creating deeper connections between the generations.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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