By Kathleen McQuillen, AFSC Iowa Program Coordinator

What a bright light Latin@ immigrant youth recently shone on the immigrant journey – the challenges, the victories and the beauty. I am so honored to have had the opportunity to work them and Claudia Thrane, AFSC Iowa’s Immigrant Youth Project Coordinator, as they told their stories through AFSC’s Immigrant Youth Video Project.

The intent of the video project was for the young people to tell their stories as immigrants. What did the immigrant journey mean to them and what does their immigrant status mean to them today?

Because we wanted the youth to see the power of their stories and accept that they have the power to change the world for the better, participants were required to attend two community organizing trainings where successful organizing campaigns were reviewed and lessons shared. They were also required to attend a videography training to support their storytelling.

The payoff for them is the completion of deeply moving video stories and a small scholarship for the top four participants. You are invited to follow the links to see the outcome of the first-place efforts.

Because of the quality of the films, the judges chose two of the entries for first-place awards: Jose Amaya for “Living Behind the Mask” and Keiry Ceron for “Put Yourself in My Shoes.” Both will start college this fall.

The second-place award went to Melissa Pacheco for “Si Se Puede.” Melissa’s college plans are still unfolding. Elizabeth Espinoza won third place for “This is My Story;” she will graduate from Dowling Catholic High School in the spring of 2015 and plans to attend college.

It is important to understand that these talented youth are about to pursue their dreams of a college education because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy of the Obama Administration. This policy must be protected and expanded – no matter who is president. All people deserve the opportunity to grow and live their lives fully.

Claudia worked with the youth from the beginning to the end of the project and is excited for next steps in her youth work. There’s no hiding the enthusiasm Claudia feels about working with young people. “I expect to teach the young people, but always I find they teach me so much more. I’ve discovered it is my responsibility to give them a space and an opportunity and then step back and nourish them in their efforts.”

Claudia and the young people with whom she works are an awesome team. I expect we’ll be seeing much more from them in the months ahead.