June 1, 2016 under Faith Based Work

FPWA’s Youth Empowerment Movement: Reshaping “If Only I Knew Then, What I Know Now”

By Nakia Johnson, FPWA Program Coordinator

“If only I knew then, what I know now,” is an adage heard often from adults whose life experiences have seasoned them with wisdom.  I can surely relate to the saying but have found myself wondering about ways to reshape it to offer young people access to insights that too often come much later in life.

The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies’ (FPWA) Youth Empowerment Movement (YEM) is equipping youth with tools and skills during their early years and empowering them to harness their power earlier in life.  Through YEM, youth are training to:

  • Identify and examine social and other issues that are of particular interest to them
  • Advocate for themselves and on behalf of their communities
  • Apply the principles of advocacy to various aspects of their lives

YEM launched on Saturday, May 21st at Grace Reformed Church in Brooklyn where a diverse group of nearly 20 teens and young adults participated in experiential learning techniques designed to pinpoint the ways in which changes and transitions impact their lives. During the session and through the use of the Transitions model, based on the book of the same name by William Bridges, participants began to grasp the fundamentals of advocacy beginning with self-advocacy.  As Transitions Coach and facilitator, Masiel Rodriquez-Vars puts it, “How do we learn to drive our own trains?”  Whether or not we know the definition of advocacy, it becomes vital to understand its importance, how it helps us to direct the course of our lives, and how often it is at play.

In our younger lives as teens and young adults, we might advocate for ourselves during conversations with our parents or guardians, with our teachers, and even our friends.  Knowing how to defend a position in a respectful, logical way might not have gotten us exactly what we wanted from Mom, Dad, or Auntie, but it may have caused them to reframe how they look at us and think about reconsidering the next time.  As we mature, these same principles come into play in the work place and in our daily lives.   During this time, how we represent ourselves in our professional lives, in our relationships with friends and family, and in our faith communities begins to shape our reputations.  YEM would like youth to understand advocacy in each of these forms and then go on to grasp how individuals can advocate on behalf of others to affect change.

The six-week initiative, funded in part by Councilmember Mathieu Eugene, supports youth by emphasizing their authority to first recognize their individual power and then put it to action on behalf of their communities and others.  The teens and young adults who have chosen to participate in YEM, along with their peers, are the leaders, advocates, and concerned citizens of tomorrow who are pivotal to the social landscape of today and the years to come.  It is essential to equip them with the skills needed to meet and exceed those expectations.

YEM is doing its part to build the next generation of advocates. The workshop series continues over the course of the next several weeks and culminates with an event to recognize and celebrate learnings and successes.  While the program curriculum is based on a six-week model, FPWA values the relationships being built and seeks to sustain them over time.  The end of our six-week program should not be looked upon as an ending, but the beginning of many invaluable relationships as we discover, together, new ways to reduce poverty, advance upward mobility, and create shared prosperity across New York City and beyond.

Beginning with this cohort and expanding to others in the future, I’d like us to empower youth to reshape the old adage into one more similar to, “Because of what I learned then, I am so empowered now!”

For more information, please contact Nakia Johnson.