Innovative Anytown Program Brings Youth Together

There is a youth program in Tampa Bay that boasts 4,000 graduates. It's been around for 20 years and has enjoyed recognition from the U.S. Department of Education, National Council on Crime and Delinquency and "One America," the nationwide Initiative on Race Relations.

Anytown is the brainchild of Community Tampa Bay, a nonprofit agency dedicated to erasing discrimination by cultivating leaders and changing communities. The five-day annual summer program, which began in 1991, provides youth ages 14-19 with an opportunity to explore bias, prejudice and stereotyping and their effects on the community.

"Anytown is the one place where your race, your religion, your social class and your gender don't come between you and your peers," says Stacie Blake, Community Tampa Bay's executive director. "It represents an ideal community -- an inclusive world where everyone is equally respected regardless of socio-economic status, culture or ethnicity.''

Each year approximately 60 participants gather at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg for a five-day, four-night journey into the dynamics of prejudice, stereotypes, gender, racism, ableism, homophobia, genocide, and other issues by confronting them through interactive workshops, presentations and discussion groups. Youth of diverse backgrounds and experience share dorm rooms and meals.

"The students live, socialize and dine alongside people who, at first glance, appear to be different from them," says Blake. "Through interactive educational activities, the delegates explore their own identities and have discussions in a safe environment about issues that divide their homes, schools and communities. The lessons are challenging and, at times, uncomfortable.''

Blake says that the program, which is now practiced in other communities and hosted 4,000 youth, has inspired its graduates to return and help guide new participants.

"Many are eager to change the life of another youth," says Blake. "Learning from peers is a powerful demonstration of the possibilities inherent in each delegate."

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Source: Stacie Blake, Community Tampa Bay

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