Changing Destinations: Preparing Youth to Improve the World

Changing Destinations is about something bigger than getting kids ready to take an active role in the communities in which they live. The organization is about understanding that we all belong to a wider community in which we all play a part in coming together to make the world a better place. We like the big picture perspective of this organization, the way participants reach out to other people in different countries, the way these kids are learning to make a difference, which is why we were pleased to give Changing Destinations one of our small grants.

Executive Director of Changing Destinations, Sasha E. Butler, was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about the work of this impressive organization:

Kars4Kids: Tell us about your success model?

Sasha E. Butler:  We envision a world where youth are prepared to lead with confidence in diverse communities; motivated to actively seek innovative solutions to improve the world around them; and have the skills and knowledge needed to be highly effective global citizens. We use Four Core Pillars that encompass the following: (1) leadership development, (2) social-emotional learning, (3) community service, and (4) global citizenship.

Changing Destinations activity

Kars4Kids: What does it mean to be a global citizen? Why is important to be a global citizen?

Sasha E. Butler: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization refers to global citizens as individuals belonging to a global community with a shared sense of responsibility for humanity. Being a global citizen provides youth with the foundation they need to develop an awareness and respect for people from diverse social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Global citizenship education prepares students to think deeply and critically about social justice, and to take active roles in making a difference in their school and community; locally and globally.

When we teach youth that what we do in America has an impact and affects people in other countries, they are motivated to act more responsibly and empathically. Creating platforms for youth to communicate with and put names, voices and faces to youth from another country, breaks down barriers and creates a culture of respect and appreciation. Students in America and students in countries across the world discover that we are more alike than we are different.

Changing Destination participants

Kars4Kids: Young people have to be nominated to get into your Global Citizens Academy. Why is this an important part of the process?

Sasha E. Butler:  The nomination process allows us to enroll youth recommended by a diverse group of community leaders, teachers, mentors, family members, and peers. Nomination is essential because it helps us identify youth who demonstrate, at least to some extent, a genuine interest in connecting with students in other countries and a desire to learn how the world works. Those who nominate a youth commit to serving as a support system and ensures students participate in training, community service, and global citizenship education projects.

Kars4Kids: The applicants also have to write an essay. Can you tell us about an essay that particularly moved you?

Sasha E. Butler: An essay written by a young man from a small village in a foreign country especially moved me. His story was especially heartfelt because his parents died when he was in the fifth grade leaving him without a support system. Although he had a desire to get an education, he did not have the money required to attend school.

At the age of 16, he was sent to live with relatives in the United States. Although he had been out of school for seven years, he held on to his dream of getting an education. He faced barriers in America including not being able to read and write and not being able to speak English. His biggest barrier was people who tried to discourage him from going back to school who told him it would be impossible for him to catch up.  However, his hunger for learning and desire to attend college remained strong and motivated him to keep going.

He sacrificed friendships, sports and extracurricular activities to focus on school and graduating. With the support of his teachers and the English for Speakers of Other Languages program…He did it! In 2015, he received his high school diploma and was accepted into a two-year college program.

Changing Destinations UNGA conference

Kars4Kids: In what types of community service projects do the youth in the Global Citizens Academy participate?

Sasha E. Butler: Youth participate in community service projects including food collection, feeding people in need, mentoring, technology and social media projects, and educating their local school and community on the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically, we have a youth who turned old tee-shirts into purses for disadvantaged girls around the world to remind them they are unique, special, and loved.

Another youth collects bookbags, fills them up with supplies, and sends them to missionaries to take to Uganda. Students in our Global Citizens Academy are currently working on a Pillow-Case project to create dresses for girls in Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda (the project is on hold due to COVID-19 crisis).

Kars4Kids: Tell us about your pen pal program?

Sasha E. Butler: In a partnership with the Black Student Achievement Program and the Howard County Public School System students at schools in Howard County and students at Collins American International Academy (Owerri, Nigeria) write letters and create videos that are shared through Google Hangouts. Students specifically focus in on the United Nations 17 Sustainable Goals designed to change societies for the better (example: providing clean water to all people, abolishing poverty, appreciating diversity, etc.).

Changing Destinations in Uganda

Kars4Kids: What do participants in a pen pal program learn? Why is having a pen pal important?

Sasha E. Butler: In the Pen Pal Program students learn to improve writing skills, learn how to use critical thinking skills, gain an appreciation for how we live on the planet and how we impact our planet in major ways, gain insight on some of the difficulties and challenges experienced in other countries, etc. We believe that by providing students greater insight into other cultures early or at the middle school level, we will bridge formerly perceived cultural gaps and differences that will allow them to be better prepared for success in a global society.

Students at Oakland Mills Middle School in Maryland and students at Collins American International Academy in Nigeria are working on a video series about life in their perspective countries and their views on the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Kars4Kids: What is YouthMax?

Sasha E. Butler:  YouthMax is a John Maxwell youth leadership curriculum, designed to give today’s youth practical tools and strategies to help them navigate life in four key leadership areas: Stand Up & Be Counted (Stop Bullying), Learning to Fail Forward to Success, Developing a Positive Self-Image and Developing Strong Personal Character.

Changing Destinations participants having fun

Kars4Kids: How important is self-image in propelling a student to success? What is Changing Destinations doing to reinforce a positive self-image in the youth it serves, and is it something we can replicate at home, with our children?

Sasha E. Butler: Studies show that students’ self-image has a significant impact on everything they do and how they view their place in life. Positive self-esteem has a marked effect on propelling a student to success by igniting a student’s desire to take risks and their willingness to learn new things. Changing Destinations believes a positive self-image is one of the building blocks students need to succeed in school, career, and life. We utilize the Social and Emotional Learning component of our Global Citizens Academy to develop student self-image. Students learn how to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for their peers and adults, establish and maintain healthy relationships, and are given a platform to help them learn how to make responsible decisions, handle adversity and resolve conflict.

Kars4Kids: What’s next for Changing Destinations?

Sasha E. Butler: Changing Destinations is developing a Global Citizenship Education Toolkit for educators and youth development processionals. The Toolkit provides curriculum and other resources to train and equip educators and youth development professionals to successfully implement the Global Citizens Academy into their school clubs and community-based youth programs.

Additionally, we are planning a Youth Global Citizens Summit rescheduled for July 2021. Training sessions will be conducted focusing on global competence, advocacy, and innovation as it relates to the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Utilizing technology, youth will continue working collaboratively with their peers to complete a year-long, project addressing a solution to a real-world issue within their respective communities.

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