Case study: Youth Empowerment Project

by Kine Nordstokka on Thu, 2011-02-10 16:32
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Name: The Youth Empowerment Project
Website: www.youthempowerment.com
Location: USA
Date Founded: 1998
Mission: To foster and support youth initiative and a strong representational youth voice in the service and decision-making life of their communities, while engaging youth as resources on a local, regional, national and international basis.

 

Background and aims

The Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) was set up by a group of young people to increase the diversity amongst youth in civic engagement and representation. The founders experienced that it was always the same group of young people being invited to and showing up at conferences and committees where adults wanted input from youth. Because of this many young people are not having a say in many of the issues that are important for them. The young people formed a YEP Leadership Team to do something about this. The Team started conducting research and focus groups in their schools investigating why many young people were not getting involved in their community or in influencing decision making. The findings of the research led them to organise a summit where youth and adults could get together in a dialogue to discuss the issues and recommendations from the research. The first Youth-Adult Partnership Summit (YAPS) was then set up in 1999 and united adults and young people in efforts to initiate policy change.

The Innovation

YEP is committed to enabling young people from a large variety of backgrounds to work together in a manner that fosters understanding between them. The YEP projects are youth- adult partnerships. They are youth led and initiated, but adults are supporting with coordination and implementation. Some of the projects include mentoring by adults, while others are based on peer to peer mentoring between the young people themselves. Projects are designed to use young people as resources, encourage young people to get involved in community service and to enable a larger diversity of young people to influence important decisions that will affect them.

Through serving at YEP programmes as board members and as organisers of community action the young people develop lifelong skills for being active citizens. Many young people discover and develop their potential as leaders in their communities through being involved in YEP. YEP provides extensive leadership training programmes and workshops to help young people develop skills to set them up for success in the real world. This training is being supplemented with practical experiences through placements with local NGOs and campaigns.

It is not only the youth who benefits from the YEP projects. Also the wider community benefits from the fresh insights and volunteering activities from the participants involved. In the longer term the community also benefits from the roles the participants will play as engaged citizens and passionate, ethical leaders.

Key Ingredients

YEP offers a wide range of programmes. One of these is the Youth Senate where young people from a variety of local schools meet together in a regional forum to discuss issues which are important to them. Youth Senate members also meet within their own schools. This is a way of giving the young people a unified voice in issues that matters to them and to equip them with leadership skills. The forum also fosters cooperation among the young people in the region. Youth Senators represent their schools and are responsible for raising issues about their schools and communities at school based or district wide meetings. In addition to this, the Senators are responsible for the organisation of YEP projects such as the School Board Committee, youth led research projects and the Fight Poverty in Africa Project. The Senators also sit on school boards which enables them to raise issues to their own school authorities.

The Achievement Solution Teams is a mentoring programme overseen by the Youth Senate. In this programme college graduates volunteering through AmeriCorp offer personal and academic support and are serving as role models. The mentors volunteer on a one to two year basis, giving the pupils stability and enables building of trust. This gives the pupils a safe environment to share their challenges and experiences. The mentor and pupil can also together develop proposals for change which they discuss with the school staff. The Achievement Solution Team project has had a great effect on the schools, with 75 % of students’ failing grades raised to passing grades by the end of its two-year pilot.

Fight Poverty in Africa is a philanthropic enterprise set up to support selected NGOs which are working to eradicate poverty in Africa. Students involved in this project organise fundraisers, events and do advocacy work.

The Leadership in Action programme develops leadership skills in young people through practical leadership experiences in real world projects. Students can follow several unique avenues including Basic Leadership Training, Advanced Leadership Training Series, Training for Trainers, Training Internships for Upperclassmen and Hands-On Leadership Immersion projects.

The Youth on Board project places teens age 16 to 18 in voting seats on Boards of Directors or advisory committees of local NGOs. Being able to sit on boards enables young people to develop new skills and experience in decision making processes.

YEP’s research showed that access to information was an important barrier to community engagement amongst young people. This led YEP to create Teen Yellow Pages, a booklet with comprehensive listing of regional resources useful for young people such as activities, youth programmes, medical care and legal resources.

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