SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Maria Centano was an at-risk teen in the San Francisco Bay Area whose problems at school landed her in a special off-campus program. Marisol Becerra grew up thinking that the coal plant near her home in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago's South Side was a cloud factory.
Both tapped into their power to bring about positive change through the Adobe Foundation's Youth Voices program, a company initiative to help bridge the digital divide between under-served communities and access to technology.
"You may ask why talk about this subject in a sustainability conference," Michelle Mann, the director of corporate social responsibility for Adobe Systems Inc. and the executive director of the Adobe Foundation, told the audience at GreenBiz Group's State of Green Business Forum in San Francisco.
"We think this is a real important place to talk about it," Mann said. "Young people will be our new consumers, innovators and future leaders."
Mann provided an overview of the five-year-old youth media program that encourages young people to "open their eyes and open their minds" to issues in their communities, learn about them and speak out about their concerns. She also shared the stories of Centeno and Becerra and the videos they produced.
Working on her media project inspired Centeno to pursue new goals. "It's a huge success story," said Mann. Now back on campus for her senior year, Centeno is looking forward to going to college and studying filmmaking. Her video, which will be screened with other student work at the San Francisco Green Film Festival next month, urges viewers to pay attention to what's happening around them and be aware that their actions have consequences:
Becerra's video is a mini documentary about the coal plant in her neighborhood and the community effort that eventually led to the plant's closure.
"I've always wanted to bring change to the community," Becerra said in her video, "and I am slowly beginning to do so."
Concerned about her sister, who suffers from asthma, Becerra explored the connections between air quality, ailments and smoke-belching businesses. With a few friends, she helped mobilize a neighborhood action group that shut down the plant.
Her work earned her a Brower Youth Award. Here is Becerra's video:
"Marisol's courage and determination reminds us that we can all make significant changes in our communities," said Mann.
She urged the audience to do three things:
'Watch the content," she said. "Share it with other people you know."
"Invite young people into your community, into your business and into your nonprofit and talk to them about the issues you're dealing with."
And, she said, "We want you not to forget that you have a powerful voice as well. We hope you use it to make significant change."