Charity Spotlight: Center for Teen Empowerment

Youth are not just the future…   they are the leaders we need NOW

Teen Empowerment (TE) begins by engaging youth not because they are needy, but because they are NEEDED.   TE gives youth access to constructive power, a job, sense of belonging, and responsibility for our community to transform our communities.


TE hires youth as community change agents and leaders:

(1)   in their own individual transformation by tapping their talents and developing sophisticated vocational and leadership skills otherwise lacking at school,

(2)   these “youth organizers” (YOs) build community and social capital, and influence a shift away from the public health crisis of violence and toward unity and hope amongst their peers, and

(3)   provide youth voice and expertise to decision-makers and authentic youth-adult partnerships to inform systems change to strengthen the community.

 Some stark context:

Rochester, NY is revitalizing.  New buildings are going up.  Craft cocktails and microbreweries abound.  Still, more than 50% of Rochester children grow up poor. Graduation rates for Black & Latino males were 2nd worst in the US in 2012-14.  Last year, for the first time in well over a decade, the Rochester City School District’s overall grad rate peaked at 51%.  Most youth jobs require a long bus commute to suburbs. The homicide rate for young Black males (16-24 years old) is 60 times the US average.  Youth, disconnected from school & work, feel hopeless.  Nationally, disconnected youth cost $93 billion/year[1]—more, if we count lost potential creativity and leadership.

Youth show us they have power. But when left disconnected in the context of trauma, that power can disrupt economic and community development—creating fear of our city, diverting precious resources to enforcement and prompting businesses to invest elsewhere.  Crime and violence attributed to youth has often been the focus of community meetings, even affecting development plans and even public transit decisions. Until recently, these issues were not being collectively analyzed at a systemic level, and instead our city was trying to suspend and arrest its way out of its challenges.  Youth were seen as a problem to fix or send away.  Rarely were they seen as part of the solution.  

TE’s Neighborhood-based Youth Organizing Initiative enables low-income Rochester youth to take meaningful action to improve their lives and communities.  TE employs up to 24 youth each year on each neighborhood-based site and provides the training they need to involve large numbers of their peers in community change initiatives. Through these youth-led events, TE involves 600-1,000 low-income Rochester youth each year in creative, arts-infused community gatherings, youth summits, peace march, police-youth dialogues, and forums with public officials. 

Since 1992, TE has engaged more than 40,000 youth and adults in rejuvenating their communities in Boston, Somerville, MA, and Rochester, NY (since 2003). TE has hired and trained over 2,000 young people as youth organizers, implemented more than 900 youth-led community change initiatives, and resolved and prevented many serious youth conflicts. Over the years, TE has effectively brought youth voice into efforts to improve youth services, reform public high schools, and reduce tensions between youth, police, and community.     

[1]  Opportunity Road, 2012.


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