To some, the Roadmap to Peace Initiative (RTP) might be considered the second generation of healing and empowering programs and services for Latinx youth facing great risks. In addition to its roots in multiple community-driven efforts, including RAP-Calles, Mission Peace Collaborative, and the Mission Community Response Network, RTP is keenly aware of the legacy it has inherited from the Real Alternatives Program (RAP) of the 1980’s. In fact, several of RAP’s staff and clients can be found working in numerous youth-serving and other nonprofit organizations throughout San Francisco.
At the same time, RTP is innovative, bringing what it learned from RAP and finding ways to adapt to new systems, changing socioeconomic conditions, and ineffective processes. Making sure young people don’t become the latest victims of violence, ensuring they don’t get lost and forgotten in outdated systems not equipped to follow their progress from start to finish, and taking the time to ensure their healing and empowerment – these are the innovative practices for which RTP has become known.
So when RTP needed to hire a new Program Director, it was important that the program continue to move forward. RTP and IFR searched for someone who truly understood the traumatic and sometimes hazardous issues facing youth, who was equally effective at holding the brutal realities of violence facing some youth and supporting the heartbreaking pain facing others. They sought someone whose life experiences prepared them to deal with prison culture, trauma, drugs, violence, addiction and recovery – all the things your parents told you to stay away from.
Enter Indiana Barrenechea. Indi, as her friends call her, is a Mission native, and the product of a Nicaraguan mother and a Peruvian father. Caught in the middle of the country’s War on Drugs, Indiana’s father was imprisoned on 3 occasions for nonviolent drug offenses. As a result of these three strikes, Indiana’s father was sentenced to life without the change of parole. “For a long time, I didn’t realize how much my life was impacted as a child of an incarcerated parent. I came to realize this is why I am so drawn to this work and RTP,” she offers candidly.
Indiana began working at Back on Track, a Goodwill Industries program for first-time drug offenders. In 2010, she got connected to the Mission Peace Collaborative and decided this was what she wanted to do. Eventually, she left Goodwill and joined Bay Area Community Resources (BACR), an RTP partner. At BACR, Indiana was able to work with RTP. She was increasingly exposed to the initiative’s work to find solutions to violence and disparities. She saw how most youth-serving models were siloed and left youth to jump from one site to another. “With RTP, coming together made things work differently. The states of implementation felt natural for youth and for us.”
In the next few years, Indiana would take on a few more positions with the Restorative Justice Collaborative and as a Court Alternative Specialist with the SF Public Defender’s Office. During that time, she worked with Latinxs in jail and in the community, the whole time learning a lot about the system and strategies to support Latinx youth. “In the end, I came full circle. I needed to be with community. I knew I should be at RTP.”
Sharing her story, Indiana offers, “RTP is a part of my life. When I was young, I was in juvenile hall and dated people associated with gangs who were incarcerated. I became a young mother at 19. I began seeing that my grandfather had gone to prison, and so had my father. I realized I had to break this cycle.”
As it turned out, Indiana and her mother would later be reunited with her father. Three years ago, after serving 29 years in prison, a bill passed that allowed her father to come home. “That my mother remained committed to my father and never gave up on him, that there is true power in voting and changing laws – those things are forever instilled in me.”
Programs often talk about program coordination and integration. With Indiana, her personal story and work life are truly integrated. “In my work, I didn’t realize I was healing from all the stuff with my father, my relationships, and what I now want for my daughters and family. This isn’t just a job for me. Through my work to connect with young people is how I’ve healed.”
In discussing her own healing, Indiana inevitably talks about some of the youth and families she’s worked with. Fortunately, there are many success stories. However, Indi is also mindful of the less successful. “I want to acknowledge those who didn’t make it, like Victor Sosa. As she recounts the story of a young father who was on a path to recovery but was shot accidentally, Indiana shares how helped honor Victor by supporting his family. “Victor’s mother was grieving and asked me to organize the funeral. I had never picked out a coffin, a tombstone, or a place to bury someone. But I took the lead because his family trusted me to and they couldn’t do it.”
This is part of RTP’s integrated process. The initiative may be youth-focused, but familia are part of an integrated cultural healing process. To illustrate this, Indiana shared about a young person who died and the father was taking it hard. Driving while sobbing, the father called, sharing that he felt he had no purpose without his son and felt suicidal. “I told him to pull over and give me his location. I canceled my meetings and drove out to meet the father. We sat in his car for two hours talking and sitting quietly for a time. I said let’s go to the ocean and sit.”
Indiana freely admits that she didn’t have all the answers, and this is one of the challenges of this work. “I had to deal with the father’s substance abuse, mental health, and suicidality. Plus, he was on federal probation and likely to violate it. None of those are my specific expertise, but in that moment, it wasn’t possible to refer him elsewhere.”
These stories, good and bad, sad and inspiring, are among the many skills Indiana Barrenechea brings to her new role as RTP Director. She is skilled and brings her own lived experience and those of the many young people she has worked with over the years. We invite the community to join all of us at IFR and the RTP network in welcoming Indiana back home to RTP.