The Neighborhood Advocate

A Trip to Romania Further Fueled Brandon Lamar’s Passion for His Work in Los Angeles

Note:  Brandon Lamar recently returned from Romania, where he represented Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. as part of the U.S. State Department’s Community Engagement Project Exchange (CEPex). Lamar serves as Los Angeles Program Director for YAP, which has programs in 35 states and the District of Columbia and partnerships in Australia, Guatemala, Ireland and Sierra Leone. YAP’s mission is to deliver and advocate for safe and effective community-based alternatives to residential care and incarceration that empower individuals, families, and neighborhoods to thrive. Last year, Lamar’s Los Angeles team hosted Alexandra Diana Gheorghică, a YAP fellow from Romania with the U.S. State Department Community Engagement Exchange (CEE) Program. As a result, Lamar became YAP’s first staffer to participate in the CEPex program, which was created in part to support CEE fellows’ post-fellowship community engagement projects.

YAP Los Angeles Program Director Brandon Lamar with Alexandra Diana Gheorghică, a YAP fellow from Romania with the U.S. State Department Community Engagement Exchange (CEE) Program.

By Brandon Lamar, YAP Los Angeles Program Director

I am pleased to share my experiences and insights gained during my Eastern Europe
CEE exchange trip to Bacău, Romania, where I had the opportunity to delve into the
intricacies of the country’s youth programs and culture. The trip provided me with a unique perspective on the dedication of Bacău’s community towards nurturing and empowering its young population. It also provided a perspective on how different our societies are and the potential development in Romania for the youth sector.

Bacău’s need for commitment to the development of youth programs was evident throughout the trip. I had the privilege to witness firsthand the impact of initiatives on
the lives of the city’s and village’s youth.

Lamar spent time with Alexandra Diana Gheorghică and her team at Active Development Association

I learned a lot in meetings with Alexandra Diana Gheorghică and her colleagues at the Active Development Association (ADA), a youth organization founded in 2012 that aims to promote non-formal education and active participation of young people in the society at all levels. ADA focuses on youth empowerment and most of their projects actively involve young people locally and at national level. At the moment they have a project on youth spaces and youth centers, as the one in Bacău is no longer available.

Abandoned Bacău youth center

The ADA team had already consulted around 300 youth with plans to work on a policy regarding youth spaces in the Bacău county. At the same time the ADA team is co-coordinating the European Youth Village Programme, which is dedicated to empowering young people from the rural area. The program has many facets, including supporting young initiative groups in starting a local movement, to national policies, and this year a first ever European Rural Youth Summit. Alexandra’s team explained that most of their funding comes through European grants and that they apply individually for each project. They explained that limited funding, and low employment affect both the lives of the youth and youth work in general. While they make quite the impact with a rather small team, they shared that for Bacău, the youth services sector is not as active as it used to be, with many activities revolving around theater (they have multiple youth theater groups). Most support for youth is external from the municipality and is based on projects grants, much of it from the European Union. The programs aim to provide skill development workshops, civic engagement projects, and cultural activities that showcase the comprehensive approach taken to address the diverse needs and aspirations of young individuals.

Bacău Town Square/city center

One of the most inspiring aspects of the trip was witnessing the collaborative efforts
involving various stakeholders – governmental bodies, non-governmental organizations,
educational institutions, and local businesses – working in harmony to create a dynamic
celebration for graduating high school seniors. With minimum resources, Bacău city officials host many community celebrations and events. During my time there I witnessed a few senior graduation parades where the city celebrates the students as they walk from
their school to the parliament. I also participated in a few city-wide resource fairs where
city services like law enforcement, the fire department, and local businesses provide
resources that the entire city could take part in. Bacau is a close-knit city where people
support one another.

Bacău city center

I am honored that one thing I was able to assist with was creating a plan to increase volunteers to support local youth programs. This was particularly valuable because the employees at the program I worked with manage multiple projects simultaneously. The volunteer engagement approach not only enriches the quality of programs but also ensures their sustainability and long-term impact. It’s important to acknowledge the challenges that Bacău’s youth programs face. Limited funding, few employment opportunities, the need for mental health services (80% of the population smokes cigarettes, often linked to stress), the need for enhanced accessibility for marginalized youth, and ensuring the longevity of these initiatives are areas that require continued attention and innovation.

Bacău city center

My experiences in Bacău have further fueled my passion for fostering positive change and empowerment among young individuals. The trip highlighted the importance of
creating opportunities for skill enhancement, encouraging civic participation, and fostering cultural expression. What I learned from Bacău’s youth programs can serve as a source of inspiration and insight for similar initiatives  in the U.S.

I extend my gratitude to YAP, the organizers of the CEE exchange, YAP Director of International Programs and Development Diana Matteson and Alexandra Diana Gheorghică, who graciously allowed me to have this opportunity. This trip has not only expanded my horizons but also reaffirmed my belief in the transformative power of community-driven youth programs such as YAP.

Editor’s Note: The CEE Program is a dynamic global network of innovators working with communities to address critical 21st century issues. CEE equips dedicated visionaries with the expertise, skills, and resources to develop multisector approaches and build healthy and engaged communities in over 100 countries.

Learn more about YAP at


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