Open Roads program takes Immokalee teens down new paths


Five young Immokalee men got the opportunity to travel down some new paths thanks to the Open Roads on the Road program, Aug. 9-11, 2016. The 3-5 day program is an abbreviated version of the very successful Open Roads Adventure, designed to empower and develop the future leaders and spokespersons for The Shelter’s Gentle’men Against Domestic Violence (GADV) initiative.

One of the primary goals of Open Roads is to build a cohort of young voices to promote GADV and perhaps, equally as important, help these young boys build self-esteem, self-confidence, public speaking and a sense of self.

“I had the privilege of working side-by-side with these amazing men, who dedicated their time and money to helping these young men understand the purpose of being a Gentle’man” says Bill Villafranco, GADV Chair. “The idea of empowering young men with the understanding of the true virtues of being kind, compassionate, respectful and caring toward, not only women and girls, but to all members of the community is the overarching goal. The boys learned from total strangers what it means to be a Gentle’man. They far succeeded my expectations. They are true ambassadors.”

Each young man received a camera, which empowered him to capture his interest(s), through the lens. Led by Vincent DeLuca and Ethan Downing of Open Roads, and The Shelter’s Raising Gentle’men Advocate Sergio Lopez, the boys created a series of interview questions on the topic, “What are the stereotypes of men?” In addition to conducting and filming interviews, participants learned some basic photography techniques, including how to take pictures, utilize light, focus, determine point of interest, and the two-thirds rule.

“The boys experienced a lot of emotions,” Sergio says of participants’ reactions. “At the beginning, even though they wanted to be part of the program, many were hesitant to learn something new. When they received their cameras, they were so hyped about it. But the most important thing the kids shared is how good it felt having the support and encouragement from Vince, Ethan and Bill. I know they truly enjoyed the experience and, without a doubt, they would do it again.”

As part of the filming, the boys interviewed men and women on Fifth Avenue in Naples. They were tasked with approaching total strangers and asking them for a few minutes of their time to answer some questions. The process required the boys to look people in the eyes, speak with confidence, and professionally handle rejection from those who did not wish to participate.

“It was interesting to hear what people had to say,” said 14-year-old Emanuel. “Men have emotions. A lot of people don’t know that. They might think it’s just pride, but they’re scared to show their emotions because they might get picked on and made fun of. It’s scary (to show your emotions) but you gotta do it sometime or you’re just going to explode.”

After eight hours in the summer heat, they had six interviews. The next step was editing the film, adding text and music. The resulting film debuted, Aug. 11, in front of a packed house in The Shelter’s Community Ed Room. Three of the participants were on hand to speak about the experience, including what they learned and how they learned it. They spoke with confidence and pride. After the viewing, the audience gave the young men a standing ovation.