Empowering youth voices

World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) mentors, trains, and encourages young people in the U.S. to lead positive change in their communities. Teens age 14 to 18 develop skills in leadership, civic engagement, critical thinking, team building, and other vital areas.

Participants learn to identify local issues and problems in their communities, such as youth violence and the high school dropout rate, and to research and propose solutions. They become confident leaders who are empowered to make a difference in civic life and their own lives. They become advocates for their communities, addressing issues that affect them and their neighborhoods.

YEP alumni multiply the impact of the program by teaching the concepts they have learned to their peers. They also mobilize others to act through youth-led initiatives that lead to positive change.

50 years after MLK ‘I Have A Dream’ speech: Still marching for justice

Yemi Olugbuyi is an alumna of World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program and a current sophomore at Penn State University in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania.

Fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic speech in Washington, my peers and I have not lost the desire for change and progress in society.

I have always wanted to be a youth advocate, and World Vision mobilized me to be an agent of change. It impacted my life by helping me impact the lives of others. With World Vision’s support, I was encouraged to begin a nonprofit organization of my own this summer to continue advocating for the daily injustices all around us.

Being involved with programs like YEP and its National Youth Advisory Council showed me that many things are left to be done — and that I can be an advocate for change.

Daily injustices like sex trafficking and child labor still thrive in our country and around the world. If my peers and I allow the idea that there’s nothing left for us to do, we will ultimately undo the hard work and dedication of those who came before us and marched on Washington with Dr. King.

Since the Civil Rights movement, it’s easy to think that the fight is over and there is nothing left to do. The generation of young people at the March — those who were out on the streets protesting and fighting for what they believed — is getting older. So now it is my generation’s obligation to continue the burning desire for social advancement.

A New York teen finds her calling and faith

Vianeli Garcia is an alumna of World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program and is currently attending college.

With the help of World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program, Vianeli Garcia found her voice.

Some people wrestle their entire lives searching for their purpose in this world. At 19, I have found my calling.

Early in life, I struggled through unimaginable hardships. Living in foster care in New York City’s Washington Heights, I found myself focusing only on the negative. I thought, “Why me?”

Often I had no say about what was going on in my life, and I didn’t think any good could come out of me.

Then, at 16, I joined World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program. The program helps young people from high-risk neighborhoods in the U.S. to see their potential and change themselves and their communities. I was intrigued by the program’s motto, to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

YEP training includes a “power shuffle” game, where participants start on the same line, then step forward for positive, or backward for negative, life experiences. At the end of the exercise, I was standing at the back of the room.

But this was just a starting point. Through hard work and encouragement, I soon found my strength and my voice — and committed to using these assets to help others.

In 2010, I traveled with other YEP teens to Washington, D.C., to let our voices be heard about the change needed in our communities. We worked hard to prepare for the opportunity to speak directly to our senators, asking them for help.

I also was transformed spiritually after reading World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel. I understood more about the Christian faith, and I was ready to give my life completely to Christ. Today I know that everything I’ve accomplished is because God is leading my life.

Four years later, I’m attending college and serving as a YEP leader, teaching other youth to find their voices, too. My best advice to youth growing up in difficult circumstances is this: Never give up hope and, most importantly, know who you are in Christ.

World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program has radically changed my life. Thanks to YEP, my voice is more courageous and more educated and I am moving forward with great hope.

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