Youth Empowerment Boston
In communities affected by gang violence and poverty, youth are increasingly taking the lead in creating positive change. Following in the footsteps of Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg, they are using their voices to inspire others.
Physical and emotional safety are critical for attracting and maintaining youth participation in community programs. Youth often prefer programs that meet daily or on weekends.
Promoting a sense of belonging
Youth empowerment programs equip young people with the skills, opportunities, critical awareness and tools needed to make a positive impact in their communities. They also help them to become more proactive and self-sufficient. Empowerment can take many forms and be targeted at different aspects of a person’s life, such as economic, social, or cultural.
TE’s neighborhood-based youth organizing catalyzes multiple levels of change for sustainable impact, including addressing poverty through youth employment and on-the-job training; engaging youth in civic engagement through community-led projects such as the Opportunity Youth United Boston Community Action Team (BCAT) and teen media work; and building leadership, job readiness, and life skills. In addition, TE’s teen anti-violence/peace initiatives are proven effective at shifting culture and fostering relationships.
A key challenge is ensuring that youth are able to access these programs, which often require long commutes for students who depend on walking or the MBTA. For these youth, a longer travel time increases the risk of exposure to the same high-risk behaviors that these programs are trying to prevent.
Youth empowerment programs promote self-esteem by helping young people to identify their strengths and potential. They also help them to understand the extent to which they can contribute to social improvement. This, in turn, leads to a higher sense of self-efficacy and the ability to take action.
Some Boston teen empowerment organizations include: Boston Youth Arts, a nonprofit that offers workshops that weave artistic enrichment and civic engagement. The City School empowers young people to become leaders for change through dialogue and experiential learning. Boston Asian Youth Essential Service provides outreach, prevention and intervention services to at-risk teens in the Chinatown community.
Another nonprofit, the Cape Verdean Community United, serves Boston’s Cape Verdean community by running programs and workshops that promote family wellness, education and career success. It has also conducted a program evaluation, demonstrating that its work increases job opportunities and builds life skills. Its students enter the program with lower self-esteem and employability but leave with greater confidence and better career prospects.
Youth empowerment is a powerful tool that can help kids to become independent adults. It promotes responsibility by teaching them that their choices have a direct effect on the world around them. In addition, it helps them to become self-reliant by encouraging them to work for their own goals. It also teaches them to overcome failures and make mistakes.
Teens need opportunities to express themselves creatively. Many organizations offer a range of youth-oriented programs that can help them reach their full potential. For example, Teen Empowerment Studios is a music and performance arts collaborative founded by Boston youth. Its original, professional-quality music and art transcend boundaries and inspire social change. Similarly, Girls’ LEAP Self-Defense is a youth-run organization that empowers girls and nonbinary youth to value their safety. It also teaches them how to protect themselves and their families. Besides, it provides support for at-risk youth. Moreover, it encourages students to become leaders in their communities.
Creating an environment that promotes physical and psychological safety is critical to engaging young people. This includes providing safe spaces and training staff in conflict resolution. It also involves promoting accountability among participants. For example, youth programs can offer gang mediation services and one-on-one mentoring for at-risk youth. They can also help youth develop a vision of a positive future and build supportive networks.
In Boston, some of these organizations are working to address the problem by partnering with local police. They are conducting neighborhood walks and providing counseling for youth in troubled areas. They are also establishing dialogues between police and youth to resolve misunderstandings.
Teen Empowerment’s model addresses the root causes of violence by building leadership, job readiness and life skills in low-income urban youth. The program’s community-based approach focuses on shifting social norms, including negative drug and gang-related behaviors, towards more prosocial attitudes. This work has been successful in changing communities in Roxbury and Dorchester, and has earned TE national recognition and awards.