|Students in Junior Youth Spiritual Empower programs beautify Bailey's Community Shelter.|
|Ron Lapitan (right) share information about his program at community events.|
Recent projects include raising money for a classmate with a rare form of cancer and baking cookies for the staff at an animal shelter, says Lapitan, who’s referred to as the group’s “animator.” Future initiatives include a visit to a medical clinic in Vienna that provides free healthcare to people who can’t afford to pay; fundraising for Safespot, a shelter in Vienna for children affected by domestic violence; and selling art they created at the Tinner Hill Blues Festival in Arlington.
The program stresses the values of justice, compassion, and service, Lapitan says. The goal is to “cultivate the power of expression. Young people have great ideas, but adults don’t take them seriously.”
The middle school years are an important transitional period, says Julia Badaliance, of the Fairfax East Baha’i Community, who serves as an adult advisor to the group. “The group creates a safe space for youths at a time when they’re moving away from their family.”
The Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program is open to youths of all faiths. The five boys in Lapitan’s Bailey’s Crossroads group are either Catholic or Muslim. That group is known as Lacy Blue, because they all live near Lacy Boulevard.
Youths can choose embrace the Baha’i religion if they want, but “that’s not the focus,” says Christine Winters of the Baha’is of Falls Church. “The ultimate goal is to build better communities.”
During group meetings they read and discuss stories about how other young people improved their communities and plan their own projects. Lapitan says one member of the group, Mohammed, is passionate about helping the homeless, reaches out to new kids at school, and shared his experiences about fasting during Ramadan. Another student, Raoul, buys school lunches for classmates who don’t have money.
The group also invites parents to some of their activities and collaborates with an all-girls group, “Girls with a Purpose,” based at the Oakview Garden Apartments in Bailey’s Crossroads. In one recent joint project, they worked on improving the landscaping at the Bailey’s Community Center.
“A community service project doesn’t have to be a big thing,” says Nuril Kingsley, the animator of the girls group. It can be a simple gesture to make someone smile. When the girls made Christmas cards and knocked on strangers’ doors at Oakview Gardens to hand them out, “they were surprised at how friendly people were and how happy it made them.”