The Barat Education Foundation, in partnership with the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico, is pleased to announce the launch of Our American Voice™ in four counties in southern New Mexico.

Our American Voice connects middle-school youth to the democratic process through active community problem solving in an after-school program that is engaging, interactive and grounded in real life.

The program emphasizes critical thinking skills as participants learn the fundamentals of American democracy and work to create positive change in their communities. Via the four Core Principles, participants engage in team activities, discussions and research, and partner with community agencies and elected officials to find solutions to issues in their own backyards.

The launch of program sites in Otero, Doña Ana, Grant and Luna counties follows a process of building relationships between Illinois and New Mexico going back several years. As reported in the Las Cruces Bulletin, BEF supporter Bonnie Poloner has wanted to see Our American Voice in her adopted home state since the first OAV Summit was held in 2009. While Mrs. Poloner saw a clear need for civic education and youth engagement in her area, BEF staff were astonished in working with local agencies to learn how closely aligned their missions, goals and objectives were with BEF’s values and practices.

Luan Wagner Burn, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico, concurs. “The Our American Voice curriculum is a much needed project in our region so that youth can learn how to advocate for themselves, their families and their communities,” she said recently. ” As adults, we sometimes forgot or do not find the time to teach our youth about the importance and ways to be a good citizen. Being a good citizen benefits everyone and the community as a whole.”

CFSNM provides financial and philanthropic support to the program, funded in part through a middle-school collaborative project through the Wal-Mart Foundation, while BEF provides training, curriculum and ongoing implementation support to the individual program sites. All parties have committed to developing sustaining funds to continue the program into the future.

“It seems like bringing Our American Voice to the area has been destined to happen,” said Jeannie Sanke, OAV Program Administrator and the coordinator for the New Mexico program sites. “We have never seen groups understand the core of the program like we have seen here. With every single site we have approached, the program seems to align perfectly with what these organizations are trying to do.”

For Barat Education Foundation CEO and Chair Sheila Smith, partnering with New Mexico represents a culmination of ancestral commitment as well; her great-great-great-uncle was General Lew Wallace, the territorial governor of New Mexico. “We are thrilled to be partnering with CFSNM on the Our American Voice program and given their support and counsel to date, we know this will be a successful and a long-term joint venture. Our Board and staff are thrilled to be partnering with them,” she noted.

The first two sites will launch in the coming weeks at The Wellness Coalition in Silver City and at FYI (Families and Youth, Inc.) in Las Cruces. Facilitators have already undergone initial training and are now recruiting participants.

For more information on the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico, please visit www.cfsnm.org or phone 575.521.4794. For information on the Barat Education Foundation and Our American Voice, please visit www.thebaratfoundation.org or ouramericanvoice.org, or phone 847.574.2465.