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Young adults learn the ropes on Capitol Hill


2:30 P.M. EST Aug. 12, 2010

Members of the 2010 Ethnic Young Adult Summer Intern class are shown outside the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
Members of the 2010 Ethnic Young Adult Summer Intern class are shown outside the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of United Methodist Board of Church and Society. View in Photo Gallery

Meredith Duarte has strong ties to her Native American heritage.

The La Mirada, Calif., resident is of Seneca and Apache heritage. Her family was proud of and embraced this culture.

“Being Native American is where I come from and who I am,” Duarte said. “I was taught about the many issues facing Native Americans at a very young age because my family was so involved and because they wanted me to know the truth.”

It was this heritage, in part, that enticed Duarte to apply for the Ethnic Young Adult Summer Internship program of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

Young adults, ages 18-22, are selected annually from the five ethnic caucuses of The United Methodist Church to participate in the internships.

Applicants must be passionate about social justice and active in The United Methodist Church, said Neal Christie, the board executive who directs the program.

Christie said The United Methodist Church recognizes that some ethnic groups are underrepresented in the U.S. capital. For 30 years, the church has worked to bring young adults from different minority groups to Washington, D.C., and give them the chance to intern with nonprofit organizations and other advocacy groups.

The United Methodist Church is doing its small part in bringing minority students to work on or near Capitol Hill because those typically being groomed for those jobs do not represent the population of the United States, he added.

The 10 interns included three African Americans, one Native American, one Hispanic/Latina, four Asian American/Pacific Islanders and one African.

‘I wanted to do my part’

Duarte, 22, applied for the internship at the advice of her aunts, who had both participated in the program and had “wonderful” experiences.

“I felt the goal of the program to bring diversity and minorities to D.C. is extremely important. It is where decisions affecting all people are made; yet the minority voice can still be absent in the political process. I wanted to do my part to change this.”

Duarte, who grew up in a Native American United Methodist community, interned at The Potter’s House, an outreach ministry that includes a coffeehouse and bookstore. She worked with the Friday night concert series that benefits each charity that chooses to hold a concert.

Duarte will enter a graduate program at the University of California at Los Angeles this fall, pursuing women’s studies and Native studies. Following this program, she plans to attend law school.

Conviction to serve people

Jeremiah Swen, 22, came all the way from Monrovia, Liberia, to participate in the internship program. It was his first trip to the United States.

Swen, who is studying building construction and architectural engineering at Stella Maris Polytechnic in Monrovia, said he has a conviction to serve people.

“I believe in promoting peace and creating a space that promotes peaceful coexistence in the midst of diversity,” the survivor of two Liberian civil wars said. “I bear the trauma from the mayhem of war. I have learned from the consequences of war, and this has pushed me to the spotlight in advocating for justice and peaceful coexistence across all borders.”

Swen, a lifelong United Methodist, interned at the National Council of Churches in the environmental health initiative and worked to educate people of faith and policymakers about toxic chemicals in everyday consumer products. He reached out on environmental issues to congregations with African immigrant populations. He also attended a few meetings on Capitol Hill with the faith community to educate legislative offices about environmental health issues.

Chloe Schwabe, environmental health program manager at the National Council of Churches, said Swen “enriched our office with his presence this summer.”

“We had many conversations about environmental and social justice issues in Liberia and the United States in addition to cultural exchanges,” she said. “He brought a very positive spirit to the environmental health ministry. He was clearly driven by his devotion to Christ.”

Passion for education

Darlene Germino, a Filipino American and the first generation of her family to be born in the United States, also was encouraged to apply for the internship through a friend who was an intern in the program several years ago.

“I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and God’s call for my life. I was drawn to the program because it had to do with social justice.”

Education is a passion for the 19-year-old Germino, who has tutored students in Seattle schools and has seen the poor conditions where children go to school in the Philippines.

“To me, it doesn’t make sense that where you come from and how much money you have determines whether you have access to a good education,” she said.

Germino, an education major at Seattle University, interned at Teaching for Change, a nonprofit organization that works to provide communities, parents and teachers with the tools to teach students. She worked on the Zen Education Project, which is designed to teach students the “people’s history instead of the conqueror’s history” that is typically taught in history books.

“Curriculum only emphasizes the actions of individual leaders rather than focusing on the regular people behind social movements, and because of that, kids are given the impression that … you have to be a perfect individual in order to change the world, but that is not the case. It takes ordinary people working together to make change."

Germino said she still isn’t sure whether she wants to be a teacher, but she is sure her career will have something to do with education.

Despite the work they accomplished in their respective internships, most of the interns say the best part of the program was being with the other interns and the family that grew among them.

“I think the best part of my experience with the Ethnic Young Adult Program was gaining the friendship of nine other people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and of different ethnicities,” Duarte said. “If you ask any person that came into contact with the 2010 EYA cohorts, they will tell you that we were a family above all else. I am positive that these nine people will be tomorrow's leaders.”

The other 2010 Ethnic Young Adult interns are:

William Ryan Brown, San Antonio

Demi Diaz, Germantown, Md.

Ashita Elanko, Fairfax, Va.

KeTia Harris, Miami

Timote Houma, West Valley City, Utah

Kimberly Miller, Nashville, Tenn.

Christopher de Pano, Whittier, Calif.

*Edgemon is a freelance writer in Bell Buckle, Tenn.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5105 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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