Wichita State University — Youth Empowerment
Implementation Project (YEIP)
Wichita State University (WSU) hosts the Youth Empowerment Implementation Project (YEIP). While WSU provides the fiscal management and evaluation of all YEIP data, it also offers the YEIP summer program, whose key elements are career and college exploration. Forty-three predominantly Black, non-Hispanic students, ages 10-15, from Gordon Parks Academy participate in YEIP. Sixty-eight percent of the YEIP cohort live in single-parent/grandparent households, and 89% qualify for free and reduced price meals. WSU has assembled a strong set of partnerships, including the Boys and Girls Club of South Central Kansas, that provide after-school fitness and academic programming to YEIP students. The Center for Health and Wellness offers both the nutrition and the Strengthening Families curricula for the YEIP. Grant Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church provides tutorials and cultural identity programming to the YEIP.
A unique feature of the YEIP program is that many of its leaders and partners have faith-based connections that provide an important framework for youth development. Pastor DeAndre Morris of Kingdom Harvest Church is the YEIP program coordinator. His role is to organize all YEIP partners and design and execute all plans for the YEIP project. In addition, he is a motivational speaker and certified substance abuse counselor. Pastor Morris says, “The goal of the YEIP was to marry three things: 1) To strive for academic excellence; 2) To educate families to be more effective and successful; and 3) To bring together community resources to address youth empowerment.” Regarding the role of faith-based partners in the YEIP, Pastor Morris says, “Many kids come into this program thinking they have to be profane, derogatory, or secular to be popular. Because the majority of the YEIP partners are faith-related, we take our faith out of the church and into the community. The kids initially don’t know about our faith, but as they get to know us, our faith is revealed.”
Pastor Morris continues, “They see us successful in our areas of human endeavor; they see people of faith who work on it everyday; they see that they can have core values and still be successful in a profession. That vision changes their lives.”
Grant Chapel is yet another important faith-based partner in the YEIP. Mentorship, life skills, and cultural identity programs are provided to YEIP students at Grant Chapel. The Chapel offers YEIP students access to the Mary L. Kirkland Academy, a tutorial program at Grant Chapel that works to improve educational outcomes. While neither the YEIP nor Grant Chapel provides religious activities to YEIP students, the involvement of the chapel’s pastors as group leaders and role models in a youth empowerment program provides a subtle but positive effect on student behavior. Pastor Martin Grizzell of the African Methodist Episcopal Church has offered anti-violence programs for 35 years. He provides the cultural identity programming for the YEIP. Cultural enrichment is especially important to building self-identity and confidence to achieve. Pastor Grizzell explains, “When youth come into the church, no rules of order need to be taught. Faith alters one’s behavior. It gives hope to youth and changes their outlook.” In other words, students behave with the kind of respect and commitment expected in the church setting. “It helps them become better citizens,” Pastor Grizzell says. Accordingly, part of the positive effect of the YEIP’s faith-based partners is the exposure to a strong value system that is associated with their respective faith.
A final YEIP partner also has a faith-based connection. In collaboration with Gordon Parks Academy, the Mental Health Association (MHA) provides life skills training, using the Botvin Life Skills curriculum, designed to increase refusal skills against substance abuse. In addition, the MHA separates YEIP girls and boys to provide two innovative programs called Girls Empowerment and Boys to Men. Each curriculum teaches youth about themselves and promotes self-esteem and self-efficacy through motivational group leaders. Mr. Robert McClish serves as Assistant Director for Prevention Services of the MHA, but he is also a pastor in the Radical Praise Church. “The Girls Empowerment Program teaches girls how to connect with their peers and how to have healthy relationships with their fathers,” says Pastor McClish. “Research has shown that if girls have strong paternal relationships, it keeps them from at-risk behaviors. The Boys to Men Program makes boys face what manhood is. It teaches them how to cope with or silence their anger. Many boys think that if they fight or act aggressively, they are being a man. But really, being a man is about taking care of one’s responsibilities. The program empowers them to be who they need to be.”
Pastor McClish came from the same zipcode as the YEIP participants. Raised in a single-parent home, he saw the same violence and drug abuse as a youth that many YEIP students see. Discussing how faith impacts what he does, McClish says, “Faith impacts everything I do. I can relate to the kids. Faith brought me out of that situation. If I can make it, they can make it, too.”