Today we’d like to introduce you to Renatta Escobedo.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I began as a volunteer at San Diego Youth Services – Storefront Youth Emergency Shelters for a class in college. The Storefront Youth Emergency Shelter provides emergency shelter for minors ages 12-17 experiencing homelessness and/or running away. I had no idea what to expect initially, and to be honest was very nervous and full of unhelpful stereotypes about what it meant to be a youth experiencing homelessness. Upon my first day and throughout my early years, all my worries and preconceived notions were quickly transformed and I fell in love with the work and these youth. I was so impressed by the youth’s silliness, motivation, and resourcefulness. They were so fun to hang out and connect with and I always felt honored when they opened up and trusted me. It was clear right away that these youth are no different in potential and capacity to their more privileged counterparts, and instead are just not afforded the same opportunity, stability, resources, and safety. After about 6 months I was hired as the Expressive Arts Therapy Intern which involved me facilitating a safe space for creative art expression and activities. In this role, my favorite part was seeing these youth get in touch with their child self and have the opportunity to play and imagine in a world that forced them into adulthood too early in life. I also get to be invited into their world and through their art, I am better able to understand their experience with added texture and metaphor than if they tried to explain it verbally. I was in that role for about 3 years before I left to get my master’s in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Expressive Arts Therapy at the California Institute of Integral Studies in the Bay Area. After I graduated, I chose internships and professional opportunities that aligned with my values and passion in community mental health and social justice activism including working at a Juvenile Hall and Rape Crises Center. Upon my return to San Diego, I returned to SDYS and worked with Counseling Cove a former outpatient counseling clinic that highlighted my return to working with youth experiencing homelessness and met with youth in the community to provide therapeutic services. I was at Counseling Cove about three years before I transitioned back to the Storefront Youth Emergency Shelter as their new Program Manager, where I’ve been for the past two years, coming full circle.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
The most challenging experience I encounter constantly is the lack of resources available to the youth. The youth many times get blamed and penalized by society, their communities, and systems for developing traits that are judged and deemed nondesirable by the community. In reality, they are doing what they need to do to survive in a society that restricts resources and opportunities for them. They are some of the most intelligent, resilient, and creative youth I’ve ever met, and feel so honored to connect with them and be a part of their journey. The hardest part is the anger and frustration I feel towards these systems that don’t allow these youth the safety and softness they deserve and instead force them to be resilient at such a young age. They deserve an innocent and playful childhood that are not afforded to them, and then they are perceived to have shortcomings compared to their more privileged peers. Many times, people believe the actual work with the youth and families is what is challenging, and it’s not, that is the best part of the job. But it is difficult to feel stuck with the youth when you are both trying your best to help them reach their fullest potential. There are so many systemic barriers that it’s hard not to get hopeless with the youth sometimes. Additionally, I wish there were more funding opportunities for the arts with these youth. In some ways everyone knows the power of the arts and yet there are barely any substantial funding sources to create positions and resources for these youth to participate in them. Although it can feel hopeless at times, there are always pockets of hope, knowing that there are people out there all playing a role in creating change slowly but surely.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I have three main specialties! Youth Engagement, Trauma-Informed Care and Expressive Arts Therapy. As a therapist, my main specialty is trauma healing and have always found myself drawn to trauma work. As a teen, I always liked sitting in the darkness and it was hard for people to hold that for me. As an adult, I continue to like to sit in that darkness, and now I get to be a partner/ guide for others who are in their dark places and sit with them and guide them to light whenever they are ready. I am also passionate about utilizing creative expression for healing purposes and am always frustrated with how historically our mental health systems ignore the body’s need to process and overvalue verbal processing. I love utilizing art, dance, poetry/writing, drama, music, and other creative means to process for myself and with the youth and families, I work with. So much of our emotions and trauma is a sensory experience that benefits greatly when it is expressed through the senses as well. There is so much wisdom in those sensations we can’t access verbally until we give it space to be let out in its original non-verbal form. Lastly, I love teens! I appreciate so much that developmental age of transition from childhood into adulthood and appreciate their directness, curiosity, and exploration. Although for many it is a really difficult period, I think there is much opportunity for growth and healing to help them become the adults they want to be and guide them away from repeating cycles of violence. They are also just so fun.
Alright so before we go can you talk to us a bit about how people can work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
There are lots of ways to get involved! You can come volunteer with San Diego Youth Services long-term, organize a project for the shelter, give donations, and organize a fundraiser. Our shelter really thrives with community support and engagement to help fill the gaps in resources. We have a community food group project where you can sign up to bring dinner to the youth on different nights of the week/month. You can always reach out to us to explore possible ways you can volunteer or donate. Visit our website at sdyouthservices.org or give us a call at 619-325-3527 to inquire about possible ways to collaborate and support!
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