Objective: To help youth develop their capacity to advocate for issues of concern to themselves and their communities.
In a Nutshell: UCCP teams up with youth centers around Philadelphia to recruit 14- to 21-year-olds. Participants work with an adult support network, composed of student instructors and UCCP staff, that engages them in dialogue on issues that affect their communities, such as education, teen pregnancy, racism, college access, violence and unemployment. Groups of youths focus on one issue, research it and design an awareness-raising campaign. Their efforts have included the creation of films, magazines and websites.
Where and When: UCCP launched the Temple Youth VOICES Project, commonly called VOICES, in 2000. VOICES teams meet three times a week at the university, and are supposed to spend an equal amount of time doing research and interviews
off-site. VOICES serves four sites in Philadelphia. The program runs each semester, including the summer.
Who Started/Runs It: The VOICES curriculum was designed and organized by Catie Cavanaugh, UCCP’s associate director for youth civic engagement, and UCCP Director Barbara Ferman. Cavanaugh coordinates all of the youth programming, with the help of 10 to 15 undergraduates and two to four graduate students from Temple.
Obstacles: “Recruitment is a challenge, because urban youth are often, and rightfully, suspicious of programs that make empty, unfulfilled promises,” Ferman says. “Our major recruiting tool is word of mouth. As more kids came into the program, they got to know us, they really liked the program and they would bring their friends.”
Cost: The operating budget is $350,000 per year. Funders include Learn and Serve America, which contributes $180,000 annually, and the William Penn and Philadelphia foundations. Temple University provides space and resources, such as computers.
Youth Served: Each year, approximately 150 youth participate in VOICES. “Nearly half of our participants are male, which is very high for this age cohort in nonsports programming activities,” Ferman says. “Participants are almost entirely African-American and Latino, almost all are from families of low socioeconomic status, and most go to Philadelphia public schools.”
Youth Turn-On: “Youth are really attracted to working on film projects,” Ferman says. There is also the possibility of national recognition. In January, 10 students traveled to Washington to present a Power Point presentation for the U.S. Justice Department’s annual conference. The presentation was called “Connecting Truth to Power: Youth speak out on their lives, their challenges, their communities.”
Youth Turn-Off: “When recruiting new youth to VOICES, it is often a struggle to convince them that devoting their time and energy to our program is worth the investment,” Ferman says. “Youth are often drawn to opportunities, typically minimum-wage jobs, that provide a short-term monetary reward. It is typically difficult to persuade youth at the outset that the long-term rewards, leadership development, acquisition of new skills, strong relationships, increased networks, ability to effect change, are more valuable.”
What Still Gets in the Way: “Lack of physical space for programming” Ferman says. “When we first started the organization, it was not difficult. Over the years, Temple University has been bursting at the seams in terms of enrollment. We have to be creative.”