Children hurting. Students caring. These simple facts drive two teens to make a difference in the lives of their generation and in the one yet to come
At first glance, Carleen Mylers and Marieli Gonzalez seem like two energetic kids embracing the carefree years of their lives. Look closer. These serious, compassionate young women want to make a difference not only in the lives of their peers, but also in the lives of their peers’ children.
They met, well, at “the Met”: Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence, R.I. At this unique, state-funded public school open to all Rhode Island students in grades nine through 12, students drive their own education and base internships on personal interests.
Mylers, who graduated last year, has long had the goal of helping children. “I’ve seen babies outside, alone, barely able to talk,” she says. “I wonder, ‘Where does this kid live?’ It tears at my heart to see a kid like that and to see parents abusing their children. All these stories I hear on the news about people not taking proper care of their kids ... that’s why I wanted to do the work. I wanted to help them.”
For her senior thesis project, Mylers wrote a young adult novel, “Mariah’s Day,” about a girl, age 13, left to take care of a 2-year-old sibling. To help develop the characters, she spent her internship observing students at a charter school with kindergarten through eighth grade.
Interested in pursuing a career in writing and criminal justice, Mylers also interned for one year at Rhode Island Family Court, Juvenile Drug Court and Domestic Violence Court. Another year, she wanted to help with child abuse issues related to adoption, but that process was complicated. Then she discovered Prevent Child Abuse Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization looking for help.
At the Met, Mylers connected with Gonzalez, who’s now a senior. The two decided their work with Prevent Child Abuse would become the basis for competing in the SkillsUSA Championships Community Service contest.
“Because I’m interested in teaching, I wanted to learn how to take care of a child,” Gonzalez says. “Prevent Child Abuse Rhode Island seemed like the best opportunity. It’s so wrong to abuse a child. So, I wanted to be a part of the prevention.”
Gonzalez helped the nonprofit create a teen parenting newsletter. She wanted to educate teens about the difficulties of parenting before they find themselves taking drastic measures to control their children, and Prevent Child Abuse wanted to develop a peer-written newsletter. Prevent Child Abuse’s partnership in writing the newsletter with students from the Met is now an ongoing project.
During her stint at Prevent Child Abuse, Mylers learned about shaken baby syndrome, a violent form of child abuse. Gonzalez had reported on the issue for the newsletter.
“All of a sudden on the news, I would see another case in Rhode Island and then another case and then a case in Massachusetts. We wanted to do something about that,” Mylers explains. “But, we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do.”
A colleague at Prevent Child Abuse told them the organization didn’t have a public service announcement on the issue. That said, Mylers tapped into her network of advisors from the Met and contacted a film professor from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. He agreed to help them produce a brief PSA on how parents can avoid shaking and injuring their babies.
Together, they completed a brief and powerful PSA on shaken baby syndrome, which became the basis for their Community Service contest entry. They earned a bronze medal at nationals for their efforts. The PSA’s been shared with the student body on numerous occasions and has aired on a local television station.
“All these stories I hear on the news about people not taking proper care of their kids ... that’s why I wanted to do the work. I wanted to help them.” Carleen Mylers
The young women have become passionate about their issues. Gonzalez has handed out the teen parenting newsletter, put up posters at the school and spoken about shaken baby syndrome, child neglect and abandonment. “I want to help kids think about this, and how it’s not right,” she explains.
Likewise, Mylers has researched and distributed information about the laws on child abuse and neglect, and how desperate parents can take their infants to safe locations instead of abandoning them.
Gonzalez, who continues her work this year at the Met, has been writing grants to help the school buy “Baby Think It Over” dolls. With settings to simulate some of the functions of real babies, the dolls record how often the “parents” respond to them. Her hope is to have classes at the school use the dolls.
She’s also developing a pamphlet to help students learn how to write grant applications. Accepted at eight of the nine colleges she’s applied to, she hopes to attend Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y.
As for Mylers, she’s received several scholarships to study criminal justice at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., including the Louis Feinstein Memorial Scholarship for community service. She counts her experiences at the Met as pivotal to her success:
“I have so many interests that I’ve been able to explore, and I like having a final project that I can have in my hand and say that I did this.”
SkillsUSA Champions | Summer 2006 | Volume 40, No. 4