From Caitlan Wentz, Suicide Prevention Coordinator with Youth Era
How does empowering youth lead us to a brighter future? Youth are the future, and empowering them to use their voice is important because they will be our future leaders. Our goal at Youth Era is to help each youth work towards being a better leader and work towards their future. Youth Era is a nonprofit organization that provides peer support to youth ages 14-25. Our mission is to “empower young people and create breakthroughs with the dedicated systems that serve them.” Peer support is unique because Youth Peer Support Specialists (YPSS) are usually close in age with the youth they work with and they use their lived experience to relate to and engage with the youth they serve to help them reach their goals. YPSSs work to empower all youth to use their voice, and advocate for themselves. When youth feel empowered they can use their voice to change their community and be the future leaders we need.
At Youth Era we say, “Empowerment happens here.” We aim to empower the youth we support and help them use their voices to navigate the systems they face and the obstacles in their everyday life. This looks different for every youth we serve. For one youth, it might be advocating for a new therapist, getting extra help in school, getting a raise at a job, or even protesting for something they believe in.
For instance, one youth that I have been working with lacked confidence and self-worth. By working with them to identify why they feel that way and build up some of their coping skills, they have been able to feel more confident and know that they are worthy, and their voice is important. Another youth that I worked with talked with me about how Youth Era has helped change their life. This youth talked about how before getting connected to Youth Era they didn’t have self-worth or any confidence. They often felt alone, and when they were triggered, they would shut down and not know what to do. Now they feel like they are worthy of being around. They know that their voice is valuable and should be heard. They told me that the staff at Youth Era has taught them that they don’t have to go through things alone and that it is okay to ask for help when they are struggling. The youth said when they get triggered, they now know that they have a safe space to go and talk with staff who can help them navigate through their challenges. This is because Youth Era was able to help them feel comfortable saying what is on their mind and using their voice.
Youth Era encourages all youth to use their voice to advocate for themselves and their communities. Every youth has a voice, and we work with them to help make the change they want to see. An example of this would be getting youth involved with their communities. One way we have done this is through a group called ERA (Empowerment, Recovery, Academy). This is a 21 week long course that Youth Era offers to youth who want to work on building their resiliency, interpersonal skills, and youth-led activism. In a previous ERA course the youth I worked with decided that they wanted to make mental health resources more readily available to other youth within their community because it is something they felt like they didn’t have. These youth put together a brochure that had mental health resources that were geared towards youth and delivered them to schools within their community to have them available to youth.
When you empower youth, it leads us to a brighter future because the youth we serve today will be the leaders of tomorrow. We can grow as a society by empowering youth and helping youth learn how to empower themselves and others. Youth need to know that their voices are important and heard. It is our youth that go out and make our communities a better place.