What is the AmeriCorps program?
This year, the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert has taken on two members from Equality California, Dorra Azizi and Sofia St. John, who have been so excited to join The Center’s team for the year.
In 2020, Equality California launched a mentorship program with AmeriCorps to support Central Valley LGBTQ+ students. This Mentorship Corps builds on the existing civil rights organization’s Safe and Supportive Schools initiative. Equality California’s Mentorship Corps is the first AmeriCorps program in the country focused on LGBTQ+ youth.
These members are placed in a middle school as a peer mentor for youth and also with a local LGBT+ nonprofit. Equality California has found significant positive impact in this program and in similar mentorship programs:
“Research is clear that youth mentorship programs are effective in reducing high-risk behaviors in young people. Mentorship also has positive effects on social, behavioral, emotional, and academic development in teens and young adults.” – EQCA
Meet the Americorps members working with The Center: Dorra and Sofia
Born and raised in Tunisia, North Africa, Dorra Azizi moved to Coachella Valley two years ago. She came to the United States in March 2020 to be with her fiancée and landed here the day before the airports closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic! Upon arrival, she was especially surprised by how big everything is in California. Outside of work she can be found painting or watching a supernatural show on Netflix. In her off-time, Dorra is also pursuing a career as a Certified Spiritual Coach and Energy Healer, with a specialized focus on healing and empowering women. She looks forward to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ youth throughout the Valley.
Like Dorra, Sofia moved to Palm Desert two years ago. She has a love for reading and is always carrying a book with her. In fact, she even has a Master’s degree in children’s literature with a focus on LGBT+ literature. When not working or reading, she’s probably swimming, watching a new scary movie, or volunteering for her local children’s library.
Why mentor the LGBTQ+ youth?
Splitting their time between mentoring middle school students, supporting their school’s GSA (Gender-Sexual Alliance) organization, and working at The Center, Dorra and Sofia work to provide a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ youth throughout all of their work. They both agree that it is a joy and privilege to work with and for the youth of the LGBT+ community.
Dorra found the program as a bridge between her past work with schools, her current work as a spiritual coach, and her love of working with children.
“If we want to make change in the future, we need to focus on the children.” (Dorra)
Mentoring has provided a unique experience for Sofia. Reflecting on being mentored throughout her life, she finds mentoring to be a way of giving back to her community. Sofia reflects on her experience belonging to and growing up within the LGBTQ+ community and how she takes that experience to her own work.
“I spent my life being mentored and guided by some amazing people, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community, and it feels amazing to pass along that experience”. (Sofia)
Sofia adds how her unofficial mentors transformed her life, and she cannot imagine growing up without their guidance and support. She sees the mentorship program as an amazing opportunity for both mentors and mentees.
Both Dorra and Sofia are enjoying getting to know their students and preparing a program to help them achieve each of their unique goals. They are still getting to know their students, but look forward to contributing to their mentees’ experiences.
What does mentoring the LGBTQ+ youth at The Center look like?
Although new to the Center, Dorra and Sofia have already found their footing. Dorra, with a background in web and graphic design, has jumped headfirst into helping out with the East Coachella Valley (ECV) Pride art committee and is excited to put her skills to work, especially in designing graphics and digital flyers for The Center’s social media. Sofia looks forward to applying her background in writing to The Center’s blog (like this one).
They also collaborate together on multiple projects: they just completed a report analyzing LGBTQ+ representation in school districts, and they are reaching out to schools across the Coachella Valley to provide support to school GSA programs and their LGBTQ+ students. Dorra and Sofia both agree that researching the school boards’ policies was both enlightening and surprising, and they look forward to finding specific changes that can be made in the schools regarding LGBTQ+ students.
For their current individual projects, Sofia has been researching queer individuals to feature on The Center’s Instagram for LGBTQ+ history month, as well as researching and writing blogs for The Center. Right now, Dorra is putting her graphic design skills to the test, working on flyers and brochures for ECV Pride and graphics for social media!
Dorra and Sofia have found joy in working with our future generation. They both agree that they have much to learn from these youth and are thrilled to have been placed with such an amazing nonprofit.
“I love the work that we’re doing for the center. I know whatever work I am doing will create good in the community.” (Dorra)
Read more about the Equality California AmeriCorps Mentorship Program here: Equality California Launches AmeriCorps Mentorship Program to Support Central Valley LGBTQ+ Students, Allies – Equality California (eqca.org)