by Natasha von Kaenel
This summer, we are proud to announce that eight students who grew up participating in our Youth Programs have joined our regular faculty: Adrian Rodriguez, Ale’ah Bashir-Baaqee, Crystal Carillo, Jazzy Schwinges-Williams, Katia Navidad Rallon, Maliq Nathaniel, and Trevi Pendro.
“It is really something special to see these kids go through the Youth Programs and go onto young adulthood excited to stay a part of this community,” says Ismael Plasencia, our Youth Program Associate for the last decade. “The fact that we can provide opportunities for them to step into leadership and teaching roles really brings the whole program full circle.”
Many of these new instructors were able to take classes at The Crucible because of the scholarship opportunities made possible by our generous donors. Each year, our Youth Programs distribute more than $120,000 in scholarships and free programming to Bay Area youth and public schools, and reserve up to 20% of class slots for need-based scholarship students, like many of the students named above. Here are their stories.
Robert Collins grew up down the street from The Crucible, and first started taking classes here on scholarship when he was 12 years old. As he grew up at The Crucible, our Youth Programs did too. He was in the first year of our Fuego Youth Leadership Program, the first group of Pre-Apprentices, and a few years back, became the first Youth Program student to become a lead instructor.
According to Robert, if you met him a few years back you wouldn’t have pinned him as a lead instructor. “Five or six years ago, I wasn’t even able to make eye contact or speak with people,” he says. “Now I am constantly explaining things, because fortunately I was put in an environment where I could grow.”
Jazzy Schwinges-Williams first came to The Crucible when she was 12 years old. Jazzy took twelve Crucible classes on scholarship and was part of the Fuego Youth Leadership and Pre-Apprentice Programs at the same time as Robert. But she says she never envisioned herself one day being an instructor.
“At that time, I think I still wanted to be a detective on a TV show,” she laughs. “But I got inspired by the teachers around me, how they made me feel, and the impact I saw them have on other students.”
Jazzy is an instructor in the Welding Department and recently accepted a job as Studio Manager with Michael Christian, who she first met at The Crucible’s Gear Girls Workshop.
Participating in the Youth Programs over the years has helped open doors for these students both inside and outside The Crucible. Maliq Nathaniel, who took six classes on scholarship and participated in the Fuego Youth Leadership Program and the Pre-Apprentice Program, says watching other students succeed at The Crucible sparked a fire in him, pushing him to want to learn more about welding and engage with the other departments here.
Now, as an instructor in the Welding Department, Maliq makes sure his students feel empowered to take advantage of what comes their way. “In life, there are only so many opportunities you get,” Maliq explains. “And this is by far the best one that came past me.”
Crystal Carillo was in elementary school when the school’s secretary handed her a scholarship application for youth classes at The Crucible. She took six classes on scholarship, was in our Fuego Youth Leadership Program in the Foundry Department, then came on as a Youth Program Assistant. For Crystal, The Crucible was a place where she could be completely herself, with no regard for gender roles or societal pressures. Now, as a lead instructor, she hopes to create that safe space for kids to explore their creativity and passion at an early age.
“You are helping the youth find an outlet to express themselves, and clearly, that’s really important, otherwise you wouldn’t have so many of us who were interns still here,’ she explains, adding that we shouldn’t expect a goodbye anytime soon. “End game, hopefully I can work here forever.”
Ale’ah Bashir-Baaqee found out about The Crucible at an all-girls welding workshop, and soon enough, was taking two classes each week of Summer Camp, every summer she could. After taking fifteen classes on scholarship, she joined the Fuego Youth Leadership Program, and says the scholarship opportunities given to West Oakland kids is crucial.
“People are more proactive in their lives when they know they have somewhere to go,” she says. “I’ve noticed now, as some of the Fuego interns are growing up and having more hardships in their life, they know they always have an opportunity here at The Crucible,” she says. “The people here are definitely a family and will always help those who came through the program.”
In high school, Adrian Rodriguez’s English teacher recognized he had talent and passion for art, and encouraged Adrian to check out The Crucible.
“I was like, the book?” he laughs. Adrian ended up taking seventeen classes on scholarship, and also participated in the Fuego Youth Leadership Program and the Pre-Apprentice Program. When he was too old for the Youth Programs, Adrian says Chris Niemer, our Blacksmithing Department Head, took him under his wing, “that’s when I really fell in love with Blacksmithing,” he says.
He never thought he would be an instructor, but it makes him proud to help his students start figuring out the secrets of manipulating and sculpting metal, just like he once had to. “It’s just awesome to have that sense that people are looking up to you now,” he says.
Katia Navidad Rallon
Katia Navidad Rallon first came to The Crucible on a field trip, and says, all of the different machines The Crucible had to offer left her “pretty mesmerized.” Katia took three Crucible classes on scholarship and participated in our Pre-Apprentice Program. Katia says staff and faculty at The Crucible encouraged her to grow and try new disciplines. Now as an instructor, she feels like, “because of all of the support I have been given, I am in a place to give that support back to many other students.”
Katia is also on staff as a Youth Program Assistant and Woodshop Technician. She hopes to inspire other girls to follow her footsteps into what is a traditionally male-dominated field. “I want to be a role model to some of the high school girls,”she says. “It will make me feel better to know I inspired some girls to do what I do.”
Trevi grew up coming to The Crucible’s Summer Camps since she was 12, and participated in the Fuego Youth Leadership Program for two years. “Fuego was such an amazing leadership learning experience, because I was essentially teaching my peers, and that taught me so much about being a teacher,” she says.
Trevi’s experience in the Fuego Program in the Jewelry Department cemented her decision to major in Jewelry & Metals at California College of the Arts. “Being at The Crucible made me realize so many things were possible that I never even thought of,” she explains.
For Ismael, these eight instructors are just the beginning. “Things are going to look a lot different next year too. We’ve got kids coming through the pipeline who are on the verge of taking on some of these responsibilities,” he explains. Right now, four other students from our Youth Programs are working as teaching assistants, and Ismael is looking forward to adding more and more kids who grew up here to The Crucible’s faculty.
“The only way this knowledge continues to exist is if it is passed on,” explains Ismael. “Then we see where they take it once they spread their wings and fly away. Because these six instructors are really creating the pathway for everybody else that follows, and really the sky is limit.”
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