The recent closure of the Santa Monica YWCA didn’t sit well with the Rev. Janet Gollery McKeithen.
As minister at the interfaith Church in Ocean Park, which is dedicated to social justice, she knew about the nonprofit’s work to empower youths through its Girl Central initiative. And she didn’t want the communities they’ve created to dissipate.
“I was concerned about the girls who normally attend the programs at the Y,” she said.
Out of concern came a solution. The former YWCA group is now being folded into a new set of programs at Church in Ocean Park, which is establishing the Young People Creating Change movement. The new groups will serve as positive, inclusive places for teenagers and young adults to explore their identities and engage with the world around them.
A launch event scheduled for Friday, July 22, from 7 to 9 p.m., at 235 Hill St., will feature spoken word performances, music, refreshments and a silent auction.
The creation of the new programs comes at a time of division and strife around the world, from terrorist attacks and international clashes to police shootings and political campaign hostility. Organizers believe those problems and other current events can be even harder to digest for young people who are facing personal issues.
“Growing up is difficult in any case,” a program description reads, “but if you are marginalized it can become unbearable.”
Girls are the fourth subset of a program that was launched to help three particular groups: young people who identify as LGBTQ, young people with disabilities and young people of color. Each component of the program will have a leadership team to guide the development of events and activities, Gollery McKeithen said.
Church in Ocean Park leaders will use their experience working with many different groups to bring the YPCC program to life. Gollery McKeithen has been involved with the Gay Straight Alliance at Santa Monica High School since 2008, offering support to students following graduation. She has been active on the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s special education advisory committee, hosting interfaith services led by youngsters with special needs. And she has done work with the local Committee for Racial Justice.
Gollery McKeithen’s interactions with the YWCA on anti-racism initiatives served as the foundation of a partnership that will allow Girl Central to continue under the umbrella of the new Church in Ocean Park programs. Unati Mangaliso, who led the Girl Central program until the YWCA closed June 30, will continue serving as the temporary director.
“We’re trying to maintain the program they are used to participating in,” Gollery McKeithen said. “We are transitioning their program and their staff person to a new location and hoping to then expand it.”
The minister said it’s important for participants to feel empowered about their identities before joining larger communities. The YPCC program will provide opportunities for both kinds of gatherings.
“There’s a need for people to meet separately in affinity groups,” she said. “Affinity groups not only provide support and empowerment but also are vital spaces for important individual work to be done. Once we understand our own cultures and biases, we can began to tear down some of the walls that breed misunderstandings.”
Separate events for the subgroups will serve as the groundwork for future collaboration and activism, Gollery McKeithen said.
“YPCC brings people of diverse living situations together for support and empowerment and to change the world for the better,” she said. “It is an action-oriented program, an outwardly-focused group. It’s about bringing young people together to make positive changes. The Church in Ocean Park knows how to do that. It’s in our DNA.”