Pictured: TeensForAll members from Ventura County include: Peggy T. (Top left), a sophomore at Buena High School, Xavier Ramirez, Penelope D. a freshman at Foothill Tech in Ventura, Camilla M. a junior at Santa Paula High School, Jasmine G. a sophomore at Foothill Tech and Nathan A., a sophomore at Buena High School. Photo submitted.
by Kimberly Rivers
An organization called TeensForAll, started by Xavier Ramirez, 16, of Santa Paula, offers a safe and inclusive online environment just for teens to build connections and skills. With about 50 members so far, who have only met each other online, the group is building momentum.
The online community offers skills building and connection through pen-pal matchups, podcasts and blogs.
“I really didn’t know of a platform that did this sort of thing,” said Ramirez about his inspiration for founding the organization last September. “I decided to take the initiative,” and with a few close friends build a way to “give teens a place to represent themselves, express themselves in a safe and inclusive environment for everyone that wants to. Basically, I didn’t know of anything similar.”
Ramirez is a sophomore at Buena High School in Ventura and said the all-volunteer organization is completely operated by teens.
“It’s teen run, no adult intervention . . . just two adults, for the legal stuff,” said Ramirez. “At this point there are over 50 members from the U.S. and Canada.” The members create podcasts every two weeks. Blogs are written every week. “We want to allow teens to build up skills like responsibility, public speaking, teamwork.”
The projects are focused on four main topics: social justice, mental health, female empowerment and climate awareness. The organization is structured around the operating committees: outreach, finance, communications, design and journalism. The blogs are overseen by the head of the journalism committee.
He said the group’s blogs are the most popular right now; currently there are 20 blog writers with the group. “They write, they have an editor who revises it. The committee head approves it and it’s posted. They follow a schedule, every three to four weeks.”
Recent blog posts include “Careers in Mental Health,” by Peggy Thompson, “Several effects of the BLM protests,” by Ashley Lulkin and “An introduction to environmentalism” by Walter Einhart.
Members who want to move into a leadership position interview with the leader of the appropriate committee. If approved, they get more responsibilities.
“What was most challenging at first was just making sure everyone knows what’s going on,” said Ramirez. “With everyone balancing online school and other stuff,” he wanted to make sure “everyone is comfortable with what they are doing and that there is not too much work on their plate.”
When he started the online community he didn’t get much response. Then TeensForAll got some members in Los Angeles, which expanded the network. “We’ve been getting so much traction recently . . . the amount of people interested and eager to be a part of it [is growing],” he said. “That is very motivating.”
Ramirez said about 10 other teens from Ventura County are members and one of the best things about the community is that “always, even if we are doing a lot of events, someone is always still making jokes.” He said they are becoming “new friends with so many people we wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet. If someone is feeling sad, always the entire team is there to back you up and say ‘you got this, we’re here for you.’ It’s just a friendly environment for everyone. We focus on being goal oriented and have fun while we do it.”
A few folks have let Ramirez know that the virtual platform has allowed teens who are otherwise shy or “don’t normally start conversations at school” feel more comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone “and make new friends.”
Creating a safe space is paramount. The leadership keeps a close eye on blog comments and anything inappropriate is deleted. Anyone joining and asking for a pen pal is vetted, and TeensForAll will confirm the person’s identity, sometimes through a Zoom meeting. Ramirez said there haven’t been any issues with bullying or false identities yet.
He encourages all teens to join, “even if you’re shy. If you’d like to build upon your individual confidence,” apply for membership at www.teensforall.org.