YWCA El Paso del Norte Region, El Paso, Texas


Demographic Snapshot

El Paso, TX

The El Paso region has had human settlement for thousands of years, with the earliest known cultures being maize farmers.

More than 70 Fortune 500 companies have offices in El Paso, including Hoover, Eureka, Boeing, and Delphi.

Total population: 649,121

80.84% White/Caucasian
3.39% Black/African American
1.18% Asian American
0.73% American Indian
86.62% Hispanic/Latino of any race

Median household income: $32,124

The population of El Paso, Texas, is predominantly (almost 90 percent) Hispanic/Latino—with most residents having emigrated from Mexico (many from Chihuahua). The annual median income for a household of four (with commonly monolingual Spanish-speaking heads of households) is approximately $32,000. In addition, the median age is young, at 31 years. The YWCA El Paso del Norte Region primarily serves the city of El Paso (in addition to a couple of other counties in Texas and one county in New Mexico). The YWCA is in 12 lines of business—from child care to credit counseling—and its Teen Leadership Program implemented the MSY Program with mostly bilingual youth, ages 11 to 18 years, at risk for truancy, dropping out, and gang membership. The YWCA is committed to transmitting the ideals of leadership, racial justice, life planning, and educational goals to the youth it serves.

Program Implementation

YWCA El Paso del Norte Region staff implemented the MSY Program at four diverse sites throughout the city of El Paso: (1) Latinitas, Inc. (a nonprofit organization that focuses on empowering teenage girls through the extensive use of media), (2) Wiggs Middle School (Central El Paso), (3) YWCA Transitional Living Center (offers shelter and transitional housing to 39 homeless families in Central El Paso), and (4) The Housing Authority of the City of El Paso, Haymon Krupp Memorial Complex (East El Paso).


The YWCA El Paso del Norte Region is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.

Latinitas, Inc.

Latinitas staff, in partnership with the Housing Authority of El Paso, implemented the MSY Program during a 1‑week spring break camp, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., March 18, 2013, through March 22, 2013, at its headquarters. This site was ideally suited for the MSY Program implementation as it houses digital cameras, laptops, and photography equipment. At this site, the facilitator edited each lesson down to 1 hour, with two lessons per day. During the camp, small media lessons ranged from making a commercial that promotes fitness or healthy food choices, to creating a Zumba dance video, taking photos, and writing/blogging. Staff packaged the food portion of each lesson as lunch and a snack-to-go at the end of the day. Staff incorporated the fitness activities as an icebreaker in the morning and as a game after lunch. Youth worked on the Big Production every day for 30 to 45 minutes. Students took turns being the photographer and wrote in their journals at least once a day about topics such as one of the lessons, steps for each cooking lesson, media, and/or a health issue. Latinitas’ interns typed the students’ entries and posted them as blogs every day as well as compiled a newsletter with journal entries and photos. This site also took a field trip to the local Univisión station. The coordinator at this site, a “social media wizard,” volunteered with the Latinitas online magazine and engaged youth in online blogs and YWCA service learning projects.

Wiggs Middle School

Wiggs Middle School staff implemented the MSY Program, alternating Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one week and Tuesday and Thursday the following week, from January 15, 2013, through February 4, 2013, in a gym/locker-room classroom. The activities took place before the school day began, with many youth eating breakfast during the MSY Program. For the Big Production, youth created a poster-sized billboard that they presented at the school’s monthly assembly. The coordinator at this site holds a degree in kinesiology and has past experience as a YWCA youth fitness coordinator and fitness instructor. The physical education teacher/health teacher and coach assisted the MSY Program coordinator with activities.

YWCA Transitional Living Center

YWCA Transitional Living Center staff implemented the MSY Program daily, after school from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the shelter from March 25, 2013, through April 25, 2013. The coordinator at this site is pursuing a degree in social work. The coordinator said it took between 4 and 6 hours per lesson to price materials, obtain budget approvals, and shop. Youth completed the Big Production during three lessons after the final lesson. For the Big Production, youth participants created a video clip on the idea of how teens should incorporate and encourage other teens to be active and to practice healthy eating choices. Supplies utilized during the Big Production included a camcorder, butcher paper, decorating supplies, empty snack packages, and costumes provided by the participants. A child advocate provided assistance throughout the MSY Program.

The Housing Authority of the City of El Paso

Wanda Navarro Rivera, Teen Leadership Program coordinator and MSY Program facilitator, delivered the MSY Program at this site. The housing authority residential community comprises low-income Hispanic/Latino families from Mexico, with parents/guardians who are primarily monolingual Spanish speakers and their children mostly bilingual. These families are in transitional homes while they await opportunities to purchase a home.

“The word ‘exercise’ can be scary. The games changed the kids’ opinion about exercise. They could see how physical activity could be fun. It was very impactful.”

Wanda Navarro Rivera, Facilitator

Ms. Rivera implemented the MSY Program at the Haymon Krupp Memorial Complex of the Housing Authority of the City of El Paso. She offered the MSY Program in 10 sessions from April 1, 2013, through April 16, 2013, Monday through Friday, from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., although more often than not the lessons ran till 6:00 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. Fortunately, parents/guardians were able to pick up their children easily, as the facilitator held all activities in the same apartment complex (specifically, in a conference room and patio areas). The Big Production—a “Kids Food Network” television show creating snacks with attractive ingredients modeled after the Top Chef Quickfire Challenge—was included in one of the 10 sessions, with preparation time taken from the previous lesson. Youth recorded the Big Production with a digital camera and edited it with nonprofessional software. Youth at this site also took a field trip to the local Telemundo news station whose crew supported the MSY group in doing an in-studio production.

Ms. Rivera remarked that because the MSY Program curriculum “includes icons and objectives, it was really easy and simple to follow.” She has a background in Spanish-language television (in production) and radio (as a reporter), and this experience helped her in her facilitation efforts.

A parent of one of the MSY Program participants helped Ms. Rivera throughout the program, especially in rallying youth to arrive on time.

Youth and Community Response to the Media-Smart Youth Program

“Unquestionably, the key to the success in implementing the MSY Program was establishing community partnerships.”

Elke Cumming, Coordinator

Youth participants most enjoyed the many options available for the Action Breaks. Ms. Rivera shared, “The word ‘exercise’ can be scary. The games changed the kids’ opinion about exercise. They could see how physical activity could be fun. It was very impactful.” Indeed, she believes this change of perspective among the youth was her greatest success. Participants also enjoyed the snacks. Ms. Rivera commented, “The kids didn’t know that they would enjoy healthy snacks.” Youth had never tried quesadillas made with whole-wheat tortillas. They added hot sauce and found them tasty. Participants also liked drawing their nutrition superheroes.

MSY Program participants walked to the local Telemundo television station where they observed different aspects of a live news show including pre-production, editing, and post-production activities. They met with reporters and were on air, live, during the weather segment to answer a couple of questions about the MSY Program. Participants created their own fictitious “Food Network Kids” video, modeling their skit after the food competition television show “Chopped.” For the video, participants used “on-air” and “camera” signs to simulate a real television station. Wearing chef hats, they prepared different dishes with whole-wheat tortillas, including pizza and wraps. “They took this very seriously and were really excited,” said Ms. Rivera. Unfortunately, the group could have used more time for the Big Production. She added that two or three sessions would have been ideal to allot for the Big Production, instead of one session.

Participants least enjoyed the scavenger hunt as they found it “kind of boring.” Ms. Rivera suspects this might have to do with the small type on the Nutrition Facts labels for bread, milk, and other products. Moreover, youth did not understand some of the vocabulary words in the MSY Program lessons, such as “weight-bearing.” Ms. Rivera had to define such words and held all sessions in both English and Spanish, translating in real time. She believes the MSY Program is ideally suited for 13- and 14-year-olds instead of 11- to 13-year-olds, given differences in attention span, maturity, and comfort with technical content.

Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

minute sessions. Action Breaks at the beginning and perhaps an additional very short break in the middle are best to allow the kids to expend energy and mitigate boredom and distraction. Inclusion of a media partner made a huge impact for the Big Production segment, in terms of the learning experience and overall quality of the production. Working with professionals also adds a career exploration component to the program, as the experience allows the youth to learn about career options and motivates them to graduate from high school and have a plan for the future.

The health instructor at the school-based site informed youth about the MSY Program and posted flyers to notify parents. The coordinator at the housing authority residential site (Ms. Rivera) has a wonderful rapport with youth and spread information about MSY through word of mouth. Because some of the older teens at the housing authority residential site are responsible for babysitting their younger siblings, volunteers cared for the younger children to free up older teens’ time to participate in MSY lessons. YWCA staff engaged homeless shelter parents so that they would support MSY as an evening program for their children.

The Latinitas media camp site observed that 13- and 14-year-olds were more engaged in the structured MSY Program than were the older 16-year-old teens. The facilitator addressed this challenge by engaging the older teens as volunteer leaders who guided their younger peers.

Middle-school boys tend to stick together and middle-school girls tend to stick together, and boys’ and girls’ maturity levels are different. This also made for a bit of awkwardness initially.

Ms. Rivera’s greatest challenge was the lack of sufficient time to complete the Big Production.

Looking Ahead

Demand for MSY in the El Paso area has increased since the program’s inception. Counselors, coaches, and school nurses meet monthly and share best practices and programming. As word about the program has spread in this manner and through positive press coverage, schools have begun asking how they can get MSY into their own facilities.

Because there are only four YWCA staff persons who can dedicate their time to programs like MSY, Elke Cumming, special assistant to the CEO and MSY Program coordinator, has offered to train community stakeholders (e.g., school districts), for free, on how to implement MSY.

The Housing Authority Community services team, El Paso Independent School District’s Communities In Schools counselors, Centro Salud Familiar La Fe, and subcontractors in the city’s Community Youth Development grant have all shown interest in receiving training prior to the 2013–2014 academic year. In response to this interest, the YWCA offered a half-day facilitator training session to interested partners in June 2013.

The YWCA Teen Leadership program will continue to implement MSY as part of its offerings in El Paso middle schools and after-school clubs. The YWCA El Paso del Norte Region found the MSY Program to be “flexible enough to deliver in a variety of settings and with youth from a variety of backgrounds.” Partnering investigators at the University of Texas at El Paso, who observed the MSY curricula in action and are seeking models for youth education on nutrition and exercise, have included the YWCA and MSY in two proposals currently being reviewed by federal funders.

Ms. Cumming’s advice to future coordinators is to secure initial buy-in from staff during the application submission stage, take time to train staff so that they understand and embrace the MSY Program, and, very importantly, tie MSY lessons into existing programming.

Ms. Rivera’s advice to future facilitators is to “try to make everything engaging and fun as well as be ready to adapt according to your site.”