Strength to Strength's Young Ambassadors Program (YAP) took place from April 28-May 5, 2015. Participants ages 14-20 came together from 6 different countries to participate in therapeutic and empowering programs while touring New York City together. This year’s participants included those from some of our partner organizations in Argentina, Colombia, Israel, Northern Ireland, Spain and the United States. Additionally, we had some victims join us who survived a terrorist attack in Uganda a few years ago. Each had their own story to share and all the participants and staff members left the week feeling a sense of strength and support. The week was one of healing, sharing, and remembrance along with a healthy dose of fun. The participants learned that they are not alone in facing the impact of terrorism in their lives. For a few days, they were able to laugh a little and enjoy being teenagers with those that understand better than anyone else how their lives changed due to terrorism.
The group spent the week visiting multiple destinations throughout New York City including The Intrepid, FAO Schwartz, Central Park, Times Square, Dave and Busters, Planet Hollywood and many others. The group also had opportunities to interact with members of Strength to Strength’s Young Executives Division, which consists of young professionals who assist in spreading awareness and raising funds for programs such as YAP. They visited with NYPD Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, the 9/11 Tribute Center and 9/11 Memorial. A special tour through the 9/11 Museum began at the Survivors Tree on the plaza led by Ron Vega & Tom Canavan, who shared their stories and insight to the participants.
Throughout the program, the group was joined by members of the Board of Directors Strength to Strength. One board member, Wendy Lanski, has been part of the YAP program for the last few years. "YAP members are our future. If we as victims and survivors of terrorism can do anything to show these young people that they can go forward and lead a meaningful life, it is our duty to do so. We need to be role models and teach all those around us that we will never forget, but we can live our lives fully to honor those that we lost."
An evening of cultural diversity, hosted by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice-President, New York Board of Rabbis, brought together individuals from different backgrounds including Jewish, Christian and Hindu guests to discuss the differences that bring us all together. The group had the opportunity to ask questions to the religious leaders that were present.
The week continued as the group partnered with the New York Says Thank You Foundation's Jeff Parness, Founder & Executive Director, who joined to facilitate a special project called "Stars of Hope". The group was also hosted for lunch at Olympic Pita by Seth Gerszberg, a Strength to Strength donor and supporter who spoke to the group about the importance of building their future despite the loss of a family member.
Combined with special therapeutic programming led by Paulo Pimentel, psychotherapist and board member of Strength to Strength, and Jo Dover, the participants were supported while telling their often highly emotional stories. Some of the support staff have also been directly impacted by terrorism and shared their stories too. They attended various workshops during the week including sharing experiences, art therapy, leadership and teaching terrorism.
As the group finished the closing program on May 1st, everyone realized that not only was this experience life-changing but the friendships made in that week, were just the beginning. These young people left knowing that they had support and people they could count on going forward. They are now part of the ever-growing Strength to Strength family – and they know they can count on us to be there for them when they need us.
There are many individuals, groups and companies that have made this program possible and they will be thanked for their generosity personally. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Board of Directors of Strength to Strength and the Young Executives Division, which is the young leadership arm of the organization and their members, who went out of their way to provide a welcoming and supportive week for the Young Ambassadors Program.
For more information or to participate in the next Young Ambassadors Program, please contact Sarri Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org.