‘The need is so great’: How a New Orleans nonprofit empowers youth
Renewal Awards winner Youth Empowerment Project will use its $20,000 grant from Allstate to fund vital services for underserved children
Nearly 13 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the city is making a strong comeback. An emerging startup community, healthy employment figures, and of course, a vibrant arts and culture scene are giving The Big Easy its luster. But not all neighborhoods are drumming with newfound opportunity.
That’s where organizations like Youth Empowerment Project, or YEP, step in. YEP provides young people, ages 7 to 24, in the Greater New Orleans region with a range of services. These include mentoring, adult education and high school equivalency preparation, employment readiness training, after-school enrichment services, academic support and tutoring, summer programming, intensive case management, and assistance with basic needs such as school uniforms and bus tokens. “We have a responsibility to meet everyone where they’re at and to do our best to provide them with the support they need to truly actualize their potential,” YEP co-founder and Executive Director Melissa Sawyer told The Renewal Project.
This year, YEP was one of 10 nonprofit organizations that won a Renewal Awards grant from Allstate. They were one of five organizations to receive a first place grant for $20,000 to continue their community work.
Sawyer co-founded Youth Empowerment Project in 2004 as the first juvenile reentry program in the state of Louisiana that provided formerly incarcerated young people with supportive services. After Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005 devastating dozens of New Orleans neighborhoods, YEP expanded its mission to serve young people from all backgrounds and needs.
“A lot of the young people, when they come to us, they’ve dealt with a lot of trauma in their lives,” Sawyer said. “They’re living in pretty socially isolated areas in terms of access to economic opportunity.” The families of the 1,200 young people YEP serves rely on the organization as a safety net, a support network, said Sawyer.
YEP will be using the $20,000 to purchase bus tokens to transport more than 400 young people to school and work, and to help fund a free summer camp for underserved kids.
“One of the things that can be really challenging leading high impact nonprofit is that the need is so great,” Sawyer said. “So to have the recognition that we received from the Renewal Awards, to have the investment of an Allstate alongside such esteemed colleagues who are doing such amazing work … is really something that we feel honored about and proud of.”