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Lauren Shebuski is program director for Every Voice in Action, a private foundation whose mission is "to ignite and support youth voice," or, in everyday parlance, to get kids involved in the issues they care about and that, quite often, primarily affect them. To that end, the foundation will put on a series of events as part of Tucson Youth Week 2007. It all starts Monday, April 16; for more information on what's happening, and when, visit tucsonyouthweek.com.

You said in your press release that it's important we recognize the impact young people can and do have on Tucson. Why is that important?

... It's a great encourager. If youth are doing positive things, they need to be recognized for that. I think they don't need, you know, a parade or a medal of honor or anything like that. But a pat on the back is important in encouraging continued youth involvement in the community. The reason it's important for youth to be involved in the community is that they bring something that a lot of adults don't to social issues, which is really our whole reason for focusing on this mission. Young people have so much energy, so much passion and--I don't know the exact word--but they come at problems with a very fresh perspective that a lot of adults--especially adults with a lot of experience in the social sector--don't bring, basically. So we think it's just a great thing to have youth (involved), and especially in youth issues--you know, teen pregnancy, teen homelessness, high school dropouts. We talk about having a diverse representation when we're looking at solving some of these big community issues, and a lot of times, the very people who are affected by the issues are not included in the many, many attempts to address them.

Would you say there's a stereotype out there that youth are not involved and not tuned in to these kinds of issues?

Yes, there is, and that's really the reason that we are doing Tucson Youth Week. I think that there are several levels of it, too. There's the idea that, well, youth are just bad, (and) I think that a small, but maybe significant, number of people hold that view. The other view that doesn't get talked about a lot is that, oh, we need to help youth; we need to serve them, but they're just kind of selfish teenagers, and they don't really want to be involved at a higher level. When adults very openly set that expectation, then youth are probably just going to meet it. We believe in setting a higher expectation, I guess.

Fair enough. Tell me about the Youth Week--what kinds of things you're going to be doing and such.

We have five different days of events--really lots of different events. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, we're showing films, and they all focus on youth having a big and positive impact on their community in kind of a unique way. The idea behind the film screenings is really to show youth and adults that you can go beyond just volunteering, just community service, and get involved at a higher level, in terms of social change in the community. We're doing screenings specifically with youth as the audience Monday and Tuesday, (at) three different libraries on Monday and three different high schools on Tuesday. And there's actually going to be a middle school we're doing as well, on Wednesday.

I was looking at the press release, and the films on Monday looked really interesting to me. Tell me a little bit about them.

Well, they're three very different films. The Education of Shelby Knox is a tremendous film; it's won a lot of awards, actually. It's about one girl in Texas who really kind of leads the charge in her small town to revolutionize sex education in their schools.

Really?

Yeah. They have one of the highest teen-pregnancy rates in the country, and yet they have very limited, kind of abstinence-only, sex education. It's very interesting, because she is actually a pretty conservative Christian, so she's going against a lot of people very close to her in advocating for more comprehensive sex education. It's a very personal story. ... And actually, the teen advisory group from Planned Parenthood ... is going to be facilitating that film screening.

What about Ryan's Well and Walkout?

Ryan's Well--that one's at Wilmot Library, and it's about a 7-year-old boy who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build wells in Africa, I think Uganda. Its general theme is the power of one; this one little kid just decided he was going to do this, and he really changed a lot of lives. ... At Valencia Library, we're showing Walkout. I guess you could say it's a documentary, but it's kind of a re-creation or representation of student walkouts in California, I think, regarding immigration issues and fair-education practices for Chicano students. And the YWCA Racial Justice Youth Program is going to be facilitating that screening.

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