Leaders for Change
Since 1996, Growth and Development Services (GDS) has been providing mental health, youth development, and intergenerational programs for marginalized inner-city youth and their families. Through its newest initiative, Leaders For Change (LFC) creates a safe haven to build connections to recover from the trauma of this pandemic. LFC provides mentorship, leadership development, counseling, job readiness, and youth advocacy, giving the youth the skill set needed to create self-sufficient, bright futures for themselves, their peers, and community.
Leaders for Change provides a needed platform for the youth to express issues, concerns and proposed solutions for the current challenges they are facing. Together they create a safe space to develop tools to cope with the uncertainty of covid-19, alongside social injustices which have been exacerbated. Through youth led sessions, participants support one another emotionally, socially, educationally, and in their careers. A team of experienced staff and talented volunteers guide them in workshops, while they have the freedom to be leaders for change. The youth are presented with tools to combat stressors by learning wellness practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and the importance of self care. These social and emotional tools empower the youth to be self-advocates and voices for their peers who may not be able to speak-up.
Leaders for Change is a yearlong collaborative multi-faceted program that partners with other small and large nonprofits, community-based organizations and local businesses. We partner with Inwood Community Services (ICS) in the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), and Boo from Moreofthisandlessofthat inspires the youth and volunteers through yoga and mindfulness. Dance4Hope provides the arts, dance, and spoken word component to train youth in expression, and advocacy. Sheila from Toastmasters teaches youth communication, leadership and public speaking. All of these components come together and have proven success in helping youth thrive at home, school and work. As Edgar, a Youth Advocate, states “this program has empowered me to help others reach their potential by giving others the inspiration and positivity that they need.”
In the fall and winter months, LFC participants will continue to advocate by leading community events, as well as receive trained mentors to give them ongoing emotional and practical support and the tools necessary to excel. As a result of the success of this diverse and inclusive intergenerational initiative, GDS is launching a movement to replicate and train other community programs on this approach; empowering youth to make our community, city, and world a better place.