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Empowering Flint youth to improve communities

Every week on What’s Working, we take a look at people and organizations that are changing lives in Michigan for the better. The Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center is targeting youth violence in Flint by getting kids involved in activities that improve their community.

Youth Empowerment Solutions (YES) is an after-school program run by the center that gives students the tools to initiate and manage community development projects. Today we speak with Susan Morrel-Samuels, the managing director of the Youth Violence Prevention Center at the University of Michigan, who tells us what’s unique about the YES program.

“Well I think one thing that sets this program apart from others is that we really work with youth to give them the leadership skills to plan and carry out their own projects in the community that they feel have a positive effect in helping to prevent youth violence. So we take the kids out into their community to critically examine it…then they talk about how they might want to make a change.”

Students select, research, and plan their own projects. Through this process they develop life skills while helping their community. Already in its second year, the YES program is showing measurable, positive outcomes for the students who participate. According to Morrel-Samuels,

“We’ve found some evidence that participating in YES had positive effects on kids’ attitudes about violence, it seemed to have some protective effects for kids getting into violent altercations with other kids, and we could document some actual change in violent incidents around project sites. We had one site in particular where the kids did a lot of intensive work…and by looking at the police incidents around that site we found that close to the site there was some decrease in police incidents.”

The YES curriculum is available to download for free and communities from Wisconsin to Texas to Puerto Rico are already using the program.