Valeria Fuentes, a senior Architectural Design student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, is both a student leader and a community leader in Baltimore City. She is passionate about addressing social justice issues within the city; in particular she is focused on food justice and racial inequities in the city. For the past year she has been running her own after school program called Kinetic Kitchen that works with local non-profits, community organizations, and Baltimore City schools to provide low cost and healthy cooking programs for youth and adults. She is also on the Resident Food Equity Advisor Committee that is run through the Baltimore City office of Sustainability and Planning which helps her provide her youth perspective and feedback to the city on their current food policy initiatives. She believes that food education is essential in addressing the root causes of food inequities.
Campus: Maryland Institute College of Art- Baltimore, Maryland
Fellowship Class Year: 2017
Featured Fellow Spotlight
1. What experiences/opportunities lead you to apply to the YP4 Fellowship program?
Valeria Fuentes: After being being involved with various projects and programs while being in my college, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), I was looking for a program that would specifically guide me in a direction that was in line with the way I view social justice. When I came across YP4 and its website through a friend who had been a fellow two years ago I was really excited. Based on my research of the program I realized it was exactly what I needed at a time when I was conflicted on how I can make social change happen in my community.
2. What social justice work are you currently doing in your communities, or on your college campuses?
VF: Currently my focus has been to address food insecurity and food deserts through running an after school program called Kinetic Kitchen. I started it in 2015 and I have learned so much from that experience because I get to provide free cooking classes focused on healthy eating to various schools and neighborhoods in Baltimore City. I have also been really passionate about addressing the needs of the Latinx community both on my campus and in Baltimore City. This year as part of my thesis I organized a 9 hour art and music festival called SOMOS Latinx Art and Culture Festival where the funding raised was used towards a donation for a scholarship fund I created for a local nonprofit. The event itself was the culmination of what I was hoping to achieve in my time at MICA as an undergraduate student.
3. What are you passionate about/what motivates you to do public service?
VF: I am passionate about food, culture, art, and education but specifically on how it can be more accessible to communities that need it the most. Having lived in Baltimore since I was 4, I have gone through a lot of hardships here because my family did not always get access to things we needed. However I see myself in a position where I can do something about addressing those same challenges other families currently face everyday. I remember being a kid attending an after school program that although may not have seemed important to most families, it was very important to me because it was then that I was inspired to be an artist and an inventor and I pursued that dream my entire life. That experience was one of the reasons I started my own after school enrichment program.
4. What is the main goal you want to accomplish in your social justice work?
VF: My social justice work varies but my main goal is to know that things are changing for the better. Whatever the project may be that I am involved in, I want to come out knowing that it really meant something to someone in some capacity.
5. If you could have dinner with any organizer past or present, who would it be?
VF: I would like to have dinner with Dolores Huerta because although Cesar Chavez is really well known for his work in fighting for migrant farm workers rights, she was also incredibly important to the movement. She fought for representation for Latina women in politics in addition to lobbying legislation that affects undocumented people in the 1960s. Her work then is very relevant to what is going on today.
6. What was the most eye-opening experience for your during your Regional Training?
VF: The most eye opening experience was that moment at the end when we finished an activity acknowledging each other that I realized there was so much passion and love in the room. Its rare to find a space where you feel comfortable enough to be your full self with people whom you just met. That moment at the end was striking because it felt like the end of a new beginning in this chapter in my life as I pursue new ways of addressing social change in my community.
7. What do you hope to give and what do you hope to gain during your YP4 Fellowship year?
VF: I hope to spread a lot of the knowledge I gain through my fellowship to people whom I work with in Baltimore. I also hope to gain a lot of experience in the work that I do during my fellowship year that I can grow from.
8. What brings you joy?
VF: When I am surrounded by people who are positive, passionate, and are having fun. Also, making empanadas with people I love because like why not?
9. Where do you think your YP4 training will take you in the future?
VF: It will push me to take that next step I’ve been meaning to take for the past year and be open to change. The future may be uncertain but YP4 has reignited a small fire in me that will inspire me to keep going forward.
10. What do you want to be remembered for?
VF: If I call you my friend I will always be there for you no matter what.