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IBA supports teens creatively during COVID-19

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
IBA supports teens creatively during COVID-19
A photograph taken by Yanifred Galarza as part of the IBA final project.

Though CVOID-19 stay-at-home guidelines have closed the door to the Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA) campus, the nonprofit has adapted its culture-driven youth workshops to an online format. The organization serves over 1,500 low-income and culturally diverse residents and has put a particular emphasis on continuing their strong support of teens during this pandemic.

“The first week we were focused on making sure the kids have their essential needs covered,” says Pedro Cruz, youth development program director at IBA. “Making sure the kids had Internet access, a safe home to stay in, access to food on a daily basis, that was really the focus … as we adapted to these circumstances.”

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Once that baseline of physical security was established, IBA took its weekly workshops online via Google Hangouts. Typically, students are in the IBA facilities for two hours a day, five days a week. Now they’re required to take at least two online workshops a week. Cruz says the organization has varied the schedule, knowing that many teens have serious responsibilities in their home and work lives as well.

“One of the workshops they did to help with the art project they were doing was a graffiti class. The coordinator showed them how to do bubble letters and graffiti letters,” says Cruz. “There are also social and emotional well-being workshops. One of them was time management — that was an issue presented to us by the youth.” In addition to the workshops, staff members do regular one-on-one check-ins with the teens to make sure their emotional well-being is stable. 

The workshops provide young people with a crucial feeling of normalcy and continuity during a very insecure time for Boston residents. They also allow the students an artistic outlet to pour their emotions into, a particularly useful tool at this moment. “It’s usually an adult conversation, but the youth have a lot of feelings and doubts and questions,” says Cruz. “So this is our way of giving them the platform and allowing them to express their feelings.”

The workshops will culminate in a final project that will be posted on IBA’s social media for the general public to view. The project has teens taking photographs and writing poetry to express their experiences of life prior to the COVID-19 crisis and their hopes for the future. The result will be an exhibition that has been educational, therapeutic and cathartic for the students, and perhaps also for the online viewers.

“We want the kids to walk away having created something, made something, owning something,” says Cruz. “We want them to walk away with a sense of leadership and a sense of power, knowing that their actions have an impact on the world around them.”

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