WYOMISSING, Pa. | Three Penn State Berks students are taking active steps to make a difference in the city of Reading.
They were among the 10 young adults who City Council says it voted to approve to serve on the first Reading Youth Commission. The commission is designed to give youth in Reading a platform for their concerns with city government.
Genesis Muñoz Arias, a senior criminal justice major, and Jose Tineo, a junior communication arts and sciences major, will represent District 6, while Saoni Segura Alcantara, a senior global studies major, will represent District 5, officials stated.
All three students are members of the Penn State Berks student chapter of the Social Justice Collaborative.
Youth commission members must reside in the city and be between the ages of 14 and 22, officials noted. They will serve without compensation for two-year terms, according to the ordinance creating the commission.
Muñoz explained that a friend who works on various political campaigns in the city suggested that she apply to the Youth Commission. She was interviewed and the rest is history, she said
When asked why she wanted to join, Muñoz stated that, “I want to have a voice in the things that go on, and I want to do things for youth.”
She is serving on the Youth Retention Committee, and explains that many students want to leave the city of Reading right after they graduate. The committee says it wants to show youth all the opportunities that are available if they decide to stay. She is also working on a committee dealing with teen pregnancy, officials reported.
She says she is working with Councilperson Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz on these and other efforts, including public art legislation that will allow community members to propose artwork to be placed in the city.
Muñoz comments that her interest in community service began at Penn State Berks.
“I took a first-year seminar on community service where we were able to work on various projects in the city of Reading. It showed me that my purpose is to give back and serve the community,” Muñoz stated.
She also served as a member of Latinos United for Change, a student organization, and worked as a research assistant for two criminal justice professors.
Although she won’t officially graduate until December 2021, Muñoz has already started her career as a bilingual pre-trial officer at Berks Connections Pre-Trial Services. She began as an intern and was hired full-time in May 2021.
Tineo says he learned about the Youth Commission through his district partner.
“I took her offer seriously and applied in hopes to be part of something bigger than myself," he noted. "It has been one of the most proactive community organizations I have been part of so far in my career and life as a citizen of Reading.”
He explains that he wanted to join to continue the work that he began at Reading High School.
“To me, it matters more about what my partners and I can give back to the kids growing up. When I see Reading and its youth, I do not see the prejudice imposed on us by opinions and statistics, [...] I want to show the youth that there is more to life than the limitations placed on us by the inequalities of the system we were born into. I want to inspire youth to shoot for higher dreams, to understand their capabilities, and to find purpose for their place in this world,” Tineo explained.
Tineo adds that his goal while serving on the commission is to accomplish two specific things: Create or work with after-school programs to provide another form of education for kids growing up in Reading, teaching essential tools of life and the consequences of certain actions, and create a deeper connection between businesses in the city and youth.
As a representative of District 6, Tineo is also working with Councilperson Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz.
Segura credits her friend and fellow Youth Commission member, Genesis Muños Arias, with encouraging her to apply.
“Thus far, it has been a pleasure working towards making my community a better place for youth,” Segura stated. She is reportedly working with Councilperson Donna Reed.
For Segura, she says joining the Youth Commission was an opportunity to have the voices of youth heard.
“Growing up in Reading, I felt like our voices were not being heard. We were always stereotyped as the ‘bad kids’ of Berks County. I used to believe some of those stereotypes myself, because that is all I ever heard about us," Segura commented. "However, we are more than those stereotypes. We are young people with dreams, ambitions and hopes.”
Segura also says she plans to focus on mental health awareness as part of her committee work.
“Growing up, my family always dealt with mental health problems, including myself. I firmly believe that in order to achieve anything, we first need to have good mental health. Growing up in the city, mental health was never addressed or taught in school,” she stated.
She is involved in various clubs and organizations on campus according to school officials, such as Latinos United for Change, the student chapter of the World Affairs Council, Student Government Association, and the Penn State Educational Partnership Program, where she serves as a tutor with the Reading School District.
Currently, Segura is completing a summer internship at a non-governmental organization in the Dominican Republic.