A talk with Francisco Townsend of the YMCA

| February 3, 2016
Eric Hackley

Eric Hackley

By Eric D. Hackley

ERIC HACKLEY: I’m now speaking with Francisco Townsend. Francisco what is actually is your capacity with the Fort Wayne YMCA?

FRANCISCO TOWNSEND: I’m the youth international director for the YMCA at Fort Wayne.

HACKLEY: Recently, we had the opportunity to meet with you concerning a special project the YMCA has with the Fort Wayne Urban League After School young people. Please tell me more about this project.

TOWNSEND: It’s called YMCA Indiana Youth in Government. The idea with this program is to track our teens to the political arena. We want to them to become more knowledgeable about civic engagement and also they can learn about democracy and how this can make an impact on their lives.

HACKLEY: Is this solely a Fort Wayne initiative or is it extend across the state of Indiana?

YMCA Youth International Director Francisco Townsend (second from right) stands with program participants Sunnique Rogers-Reed, Stashanna Thomas and Naomi Robinson.

YMCA Youth International Director Francisco Townsend (second from right) stands with program participants Sunnique Rogers-Reed, Stashanna Thomas and Naomi Robinson.

TOWNSEND: Indiana Youth in Government is a national program that is run by the YMCA. It is currently present in about 38 states in the nation and we are bringing this the program back to Fort Wayne.

The idea is that high school students will go to an Indiana State Conference where they will be running a youth legislator with other 200 or 300 high school kids from all over the states. But also, they have the opportunity to participate with older students around the county in the national youth legislature in Washington DC.

HACKLEY: You have youth administrators that are being voted on?

TOWNSEND: Yes. The youth run a youth legislator where they can be elected as a senator and representative. They can run for a public charge like they can be a governor, they can be a speaker of the house, they run to be a member of the supreme court, or they can become a judge. They are elected by their own peers, so at some point they need to lobby in order to be elected as the Indiana Youth and Government governor for example.

HACKLEY: Interesting. As you work this concept with this young people where they symbolically take the job title of an Indiana State Representative, Senator or other elected official, what kind of lasting impact do you think this will have on the kid while they’re still in high school?

TOWNSEND: I think when you are young there are a lot of options for you. But many times you don’t know what you want to do with your life.  So this is a way to give students ideas  where you can find maybe a niche where it can help you to decide your future career. But also, for those kids that are very interested in public speaking and participating in the government of their community, this can be a real training about a job or their career in their future life.

HACKLEY: What is the student age range that you’re focusing on?

TOWNSEND: Indiana Youth and Government’s aim is for high school kids mainly, but also eighth graders can be part of the program as pages.

HACKLEY: By working with eighth graders through high school, these kids are taking these jobs and they’re becoming knowledgeable of these roles, that could very easily mean that if they continue in that same line, that all these kids might know each other when they potentially get to the house of the representatives.

TOWNSEND: Exactly and that’s the idea. Sometime some of the kids want to work in government or they want to become an attorney. This is excellent practice for them and it’s an excellent part of curriculum building.

HACKLEY: What inspires you most about the Fort Wayne Urban League students?

TOWNSEND: I love the commitment of the kids, the energy and their passion. I think despite the socio-economic differences that teenagers may have, they always look for the same goals. They look for a place where they can feel safe and secure. They look for opportunities. They look for empowerment.  They look for a way to feel useful and give it back to the community.

HACKLEY: Tell me something, how long have you been in America?

TOWNSEND: Nine years. I come from Chile.

HACKLEY: Why come to the United States?

TOWNSEND: I always have been part of YMCA programs since I was 10 years old. The YMCA is in my country and in many countries in South America we’re all run in a similar way as the Fort Wayne Urban League. The YMCA has houses in the community where teens go and find support in a nurturing environment. The staff helps them with their homework and also helps them in their life path. By being involved in the YMCA, I started to learn about my community and also about my country.

Because of the YMCA, I was able to travel around the country and represent my leadership group in different international and national conferences.  So what brought me to United States was my wife, she is from Fort Wayne. She went to Valparaiso University in Indiana. Valparaiso University has a partnership with Valparaiso, Chile where I am from. I met her when she went down there for a chain program to practice her Spanish and social work. So we met like for a couple of months while  she was there and then she came back to Fort Wayne to finish her degree. Then she returned to Chile for about two years working for the international department.

At some point our relationship became more serious and at some point I had to make a decision on where we will live.  In my family, I have three brothers and one sister, a lot of nephews and nieces. So I felt my mom and dad seem to have a good company here with my siblings but on my wife’s side, it was just her, her sister, mom and dad. So I said, I can go there and try because she had been in Chile for about three years, so I should go there and try too.

When I came here, I did not know English because we never had to learn English because we were so far away from the rest of the world. It’s happens the same way here in America that you feel like you have everything so you don’t need to learn anything. People that are living in the United State sometime feel that way.

When I came here and started learning English at the YMCA with the before and after school programs since they were the only one to have the patience to repeat the same word five or 10 times to me, plus their English was clear they don’t use idioms, they spoke clearly, slowly and that helped me. So I was on my way with the YMCA, being a part time staff person. Then I went to college and attended to IPFW.  In Chile, I had attended law school for four years. I have my degree in paralegal.

But when I came here, I couldn’t find work so I had to start from zero. I feel like I was born again since I had no language, no friends, living in a different culture, eating different foods, but again I came here to be successful. So I attended to IPFW and in four years I got my degree in Spanish. I was thinking about being a Spanish teacher in high school. But at some point, the youth director position became open in the YMCA and I applied and here I am.

HACKLEY: What is the YMCA’s objective in dealing with young people because it’s obviously a universal type of an approach?

TOWNSEND: Yes, the YMCA has a presence in a 119 countries. The YMCA reaches 28 million people, young people around the world. But, there are 1.6 million around there that have not been reached by any organization, so there is still a lot of work to be done. If you just turn on the news and see how effective our teams are in Africa. I was just reading an article about young ladies at 13, 14 and many younger being married to some older man they don’t know, they don’t want and they become pregnant, starting a life that they don’t desire. Last year, 200 teens were kidnapped for paramilitary group and still they don’t know where they are. So teens are struggling and having a hard time around the world. So the YMCA tries to help them, to empower them so they can have a better life and more opportunities. It’s like any other organization. We want to transform our teen’s life. We don’t want to be just transactional but also transformational.

HACKLEY: What commonalities is it between different countries and different urban areas in America in terms of the issues that our youth are dealing with?

TOWNSEND: Well, every community in every country has their own issues. Even here in Fort Wayne, the YMCA at Renaissance Pointe has completely different issues than most of the other Fort Wayne YMCA Branches. So what is happening now in our community also is happening on country levels. So our challenge is how we can be more diverse and inclusive with our community so then we can better serve all of our communities and especially to our teens. What are the differences that we can work with to make them more welcome in this case with the YMCA.

HACKLEY: How do you get the word out to high school students who may want to get involved in this program?

TOWNSEND: Usually we advertize a program through different media, Facebook, internet media but also through our members. Once they register or once they have been around our community parents start asking, what do you have for my kid?  What do you have from my son?

So that’s also a good way to get connected in these programs, but also that is not enough. So that’s when we need to go into our community and start creating partnership with them.  We let them know, this is what we have, this is how you can benefit, and this is how we can work together in order to help each other.

I’m now speaking with Francisco Townsend. Francisco what is actually is your capacity with the Fort Wayne YMCA?

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Category: Community, Education, Local, Politics, Youth

About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at hackonomicstv@gmail.com.

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