Pre-Teen Hope in the Heights

Age of Opportunity

There is no more important time in youth development than middle school. These are adolescents just a few years away from being young adults who are developing a self-identity apart from their family and peer groups. Some refer to this phase as a time of extreme challenges. At Operation Exodus we see it as an age of opportunity!

This can be a season of planting some very important seeds for the future. As young people gain independence and more power over decisions about how they will spend their time, a healthy sense of identity is critical. They may be exposed to activities like drinking, smoking, intimate relationships, peer groups, school etc. Making poor choices can have life-altering consequences. Also consider the complexity of the messages they see online. It’s no wonder mental illness for young people is on the rise. 

Krizia Aguiluz, who served as the middle school coordinator this past year, recognizes how important it is to build relationships of trust with young people before beginning to advise or guide them. “If they don’t trust you, and believe that you understand where they are coming from,” says Aguiluz, “then there is little chance that they will share their thoughts, their lives, or their hearts with you.”


If they don’t trust you, and believe that you understand where they are coming from, then there is little chance that they will share their thoughts, their lives, or their hearts with you

A Public Service

This summer the middle school team researched, wrote and produced a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about gentrification. With the help of Operation Exodus board member Adrian Miranda, the group created two scripts to choose from, one on immigrant rights, and the other on gentrification and its potential impact on the neighborhood. On production day a team went out to shoot “B” roll footage while the rest of the team created a backdrop, set up lights, hooked up microphones, and helped with hair and wardrobe. Students interested in tech acted as camera operators and directors. 

The PSA, now in post production, will be posted on YouTube and distributed to many press outlets uptown to raise awareness about the issue of gentrification and how it can impact a neighborhood. They learned so much, and did a great job!


Who Am I?

Earlier in the year, “The Identity Project,” was a series of workshops designed to get our youth thinking about who they are and perhaps, more important, who they would like to become. In one exercise they wrote Seven Word Stories that encapsulated (in seven words or less) something about their identity. A photographer then took portraits under the direction of the student. The results were powerful.


The “Identity Project,” included Seven Word Stories, short essays and some beautiful photographic portraits. 

Other Seven Word Stories from the book:

“The Tears Have Already Dried Up”

“She Can’t Be Here, But I NEED Her”

“Darkness Can Always Turn Into Light”

Building Empathy

Another development during the middle school years is a growing awareness of others and hopefully, an increasing sense of empathy. As incidents of bullying around the U.S. grow, sometimes with dire consequences, it’s clear that our youth need help learning about this important social-emotional trait.

We love encouraging and challenging our students through community service as well. This year the Exodus middle school participated in a “Global 6k Walk for Water” with World Vision to raise money that will provide clean water to children around the world. And, this past spring they worked up a sweat washing cars to raise their own funds for sleep-away camp.

We want to thank you for supporting these promising and caring young men and women. Here is a Seven Word Story dedicated to them:

“You Give Us Hope For The Future.”

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