Our youth are making major sacrifices during our surreal stay-at-home-even-if-you-don’t-want-to existence. Rites of passage they have been looking forward to for years are cancelled: proms, spring sports, graduations, first dates. With loving parental support, the majority of local youth are adhering to guidelines, social distancing, and contributing to our County’s decrease in COVID-19 statistics. Sadly, not all youth have this luxury; some need to earn a regular paycheck, the result of extreme extenuating circumstances like financial aid ineligibilities and inequalities that exist in our nation’s social structure.
For the first time ever, we are featuring youth leaders who will be anonymous. They are male and female freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school. At a time when looking inward is omnipresent, these youth are looking outward: stocking shelves, filling bags, returning carts. They are combining bravery and resiliency in ways that many of their peers will never experience. These high school youth have committed to full-time jobs to put food on the table and help pay their family’s monthly bills.
When they started their school year, this was not in their plan. Their parents had steady jobs in our hospitality industry, and they had stability. Then came the Coronavirus and local unemployment reached new heights. Their parents were suddenly unable to provide for them. Their new normal is full time employment. Facing the risk of a daily grocery store job during a pandemic as opposed to accessing the hot spot to log onto their school-loaned Chromebook is their reality.
Swimming In The Same Water But With A Different Boat
There are many layers of compassion during this crisis, but for me, learning of this situation hit particularly hard. I first heard about these youth during my weekly Eagle County School District Wellness Family Engagement Committee Zoom meetings. “There is an issue with our undocumented families; let’s face it, we have heads of households that are not documented at all. They are good, hard working people, trying to raise their families in this expensive, beautiful resort and suddenly they don't have jobs. Due to this, we have a few students at Battle Mountain High School jumping in to support their parents or siblings. I am concerned because I know that we are swimming in the same water but with a different boat. This relief is not for all of us and we must recognize that,” said Beatriz Bustamonte, Director of Hispanic Community Engagement at Battle Mountain High School and School Health Assistant.
The next time you are at the grocery store and you see what appears to be a high school student working, please give them a smile, a nod, a thank you - something to let them know they are special. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, their sacrifice deserves compassion from us all. Recognize their strength, their courage, their commitment to family, their ability to do what it takes to survive. Real leadership takes many different forms. During COVID-19 the bravest leadership looks outward amongst a world of inequality.
Carol Johnson is Mountain Youth’s Community Engagement Manager and Facilitator of Eat Chat Parent.