She Does it for the Youth: Meet Stephany

Name: Stephany Monterroso

Year: 4th year

Major: Double Major in Sociology and Psychology

Hometown: Los Angeles, Ca

Favorite Netflix series: Stranger Things

Favorite restaurant in IV: Buddah Bowls

What do you like to do in your free time?

Hang out with my friends, sketch, watch Netflix, call my family, go to Universal Studios and hang out with my boyfriend. I enjoy visiting my family and boyfriend in Los Angeles if I have free time on the weekends!

What extracurriculars are you involved in?

I'm a teaching assistant at Isla Vista Elementary School and Peer Buddies volunteer. I'm also a reasearch assistant for Dr. Richard Mayer and an intern with Freedom4Youth.

What is Freedom4Youth?

Freedom4Youth is a non-profit organization offering mentorship, tutoring, career and educational counseling to youth in the juvenile justice system. These teens are typically 13 to 18 years old. Our main mission is to empower the youth and build a community in the juvenile justice system. Freedom4Youth develops a variety of activities designed to help those at Los Prietos Boys’ Camp improve their social interaction and analytical skills. These processes aim to help the boys re-integrate into their communities.  

Why did you join?

I saw Freedom4Youth as an opportunity to help others in need. I decided to join Freedom4Youth in my junior year at UCSB when the organization's president, Cinthia Zapien, told me about it during class. She showed her passion for helping the boys at the Los Prietos Boys’ Camp, which only made the organization more intriguing to me. As I began going to meetings, I noticed each person who shared their experience with the boys showed a side of compassion. They showed an intimate side that not only expressed gratitude for being part of the organization, but motivation to help these troubled teenaged boys--that was the exact moment I realized I wanted to help make a difference in those boys’ lives and hoped to guide them down a better path.

When signing up to become a member, I thought of how difficult it was growing up in my hometown. It was so easy for me, a Latina student from a poor familial background, to fall into a life of crime or other dangerous situations. I've witnessed people my age go down this path because it was difficult for them to continue pursuing their academic dreams and even harder for them to not be influenced by the delinquent lifestyle. Thankfully, I had a family that truly cared for me and encouraged me to continue pursuing my dreams as a psychologist. These teenage boys, on the other hand, weren't as privileged with the same type of love, care, and guidance I was given as a child. It's terrible to think of how a child with so much potential falls into a life of crime just because they weren't given the guidance or love they deserved. So, after listening to all the sentimental stories from the Freedom4Youth mentors and learning about the boys' lifestyles, it didn't take much for me to complete the membership process. Since then, being involved with this organization has been a life changing experience.

What is your favorite part about being involved in Freedom4Youth?

Honestly, being able to put smiles on the boys’ faces at the Los Prietos Boys’ Camp in Santa Barbara is what makes me look forward to working with them on camp days. As soon as you get to the camp site, they welcome you with smiles and mention how grateful they are for your presence in Freedom4Youth. To the boys, Freedom4Youth is the only outside contact they have other than the police officers and lunch crew. They're thankful to have other people in the camp, especially volunteers.

It's truly inspiring to me when I hear these boys tell me that they are amazed when I visit them as a volunteer because I'm not getting paid to do it. They say that not many people are there to support them, including their family members, so it's a heartwarming moment for them when I can fill that void by continually visiting on camp days. Being able to make a difference like that in someone else’s life is what fills my heart with joy.

Can anyone join? And if so, how?

Absolutely! Anyone can join the organization. There are weekly meetings every Thursday at 6pm in the State Street room in the first floor of the UCEN. However, to be eligible to go to Los Prietos Boys’ Camp, where the boys are housed, you have to be 21 years old, fingerprinted through the Santa Barbara Probation Department, have a clean background, fill out an intern application, and be interviewed by a program advisor. Once that's done, you'll have the opportunity to go to the Los Prietos Boys’ Camp every Tuesday from 3-5:30pm or every other Saturday from 2-6:00pm. 

Find out more about Freedom4Youth on their website