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New Youth-Led Organization Aims to Empower Young People in Western Queens

Members of Youth On The Move hand out premade meals (Youth On The Move)

Jan. 4, 2022 By Allie Griffin

A new, Woodside-based youth organization has launched with the goal of engaging and empowering young people in western Queens.

Youth On The Move, a youth-led offshoot of the local organization Woodside On The Move, was created in mid-October and held its first “general interest” meeting in November to recruit more young people.

The organization was born in part due to WOTM Executive Director Steven Raga’s desire to get more young people involved in the Woodside-based organization and its community efforts.

Raga, who took the reins of WOTM in August, aimed to create an advisory council for Woodside youth. What resulted was a group of 43 young people who are dedicated to helping out their neighbors in need.

He said the goal of YOTM is twofold. It’s to give an opportunity for Queens youth to support their community and in turn, for the community to support and uplift Queens youth, he said.

However, Raga said, the young people at the helm of YOTM are the ones who will be determining the organization’s future.

“All we’re doing is building the ship for them and they can sail it wherever they want,” he said. “Wherever they go — as long as they do with passion and do it to serve the community, the most vulnerable people in New York City — I’ll be there to support and Woodside On The Move will be there to definitely support.”

Members of Youth On The Move, including John Bahia (pictured in the bottom center wearing a hat) at its first general interest meeting (Youth On The Move)

One of the young leaders of YOTM and a public affairs fellow at WOTM, 20-year-old John Bahia, said one of its main missions is to give young people a platform to contribute to their community.

Bahia, a Woodside resident and student at LaGuardia Community College, said that YOTM helps Gen-Zers move beyond just speaking about issues important to them to actually doing the work to address those same issues.

“It’s really great to see that at a very young age, we want to be the change that we want to see,” Bahia said. “We don’t just want to talk about it on social media. We want to actually do it ourselves.”

For instance, one of the major issues important to YOTM is food insecurity in western Queens. To help address the issue, members have done numerous food distributions often targeting residents who shelter in parks and under overpasses as well as community fridges.

Over just two days — Dec. 30 and 31 — YOTM handed out 1,000 prepared meals and more than 800 masks and filled 10 community fridges across Queens and Brooklyn, Bahia said.

Members of Youth On The Move hand out food to people sheltering under a Queens overpass (Youth On The Move)

Raga, who serves as an advisor to YOTM members, said he was surprised to learn they were distributing food in Brooklyn late into the night on New Year’s Eve.

“They were like, ‘this is the way we’re gonna ring out to 2021’,” Raga said. “I’m like ‘alright, okay guys, you got to be committed but you know, you can hang out with family tonight.”

He said that he admires their dedication and that it’s truly genuine — not something just to show on their college applications.

“At their age, I was playing basketball and hanging out with my friends,” Raga admitted.

Another issue important to YOTM members is the movement to make CUNY free. Several members joined a Dec. 11 rally with legislators and advocates to call for free CUNY tuition.

Moving forward, YOTM is also thinking of ways to support young people experiencing homelessness and immigrant groups that are often overlooked in Queens, Bahia and Raga both said.

Most of the YOTM members are from immigrant families themselves, Raga said.

Another big goal looking into the future, they said, is to civically engage youth in their local government and community advocacy.

They want to create a generation of future leaders, advocates and change-makers.

“In five to 10 years hopefully, we will form a group of more responsible and more civically engaged adults that care about the community,” Bahia said.

YOTM is accepting new members via an online interest form, which can be found here.

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