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Youth Institute Leverages Creativity Into Entrepreneurship
The YMCA’s digital media youth development program for teens known as the Youth Institute—or YI—is honing participants’ skills by putting them to work. In an expansion of the program, junior and senior high school students in YI can be hired for video and graphic design projects, allowing them to earn a stipend and help recover program expenses.
Founded three years ago at the YMCA-PG&E Teen Center, YI began to produce professional-level videos for local nonprofits including the YMCA, Oakland-based Super Stars Literacy and Berkeley’s REALM Charter School. The projects were student-led, from an initial client presentation of an idea to filming and post-production. “It’s a different experience; a lot is expected of us in what we produce and how well we communicate,” said Tarik Brooks, a junior at Berkeley High and a YI participant.
By giving more experienced participants a paying internship, YI hopes to retain its students through all four years of high school. After an intensive two-year training program, older students are offered optional advanced training. Many stay because they enjoy being part of the YI community, said Program Manager Brandyn Johnson. But to get ahead in their competitive fields, he added, students need a professional portfolio by the time they graduate.
“We want to see the kids we train now running tech companies; we want to see people of color having more creative power in digital media industries,” Johnson said.
Clients say they’re pleased with their YI product. “We would love to work with them again,” said Jennifer Graves, grant manager for Super Stars Literacy. YI teens created a video about the after-school enrichment program that Super Stars used in a crowd-funding pitch on the web site Indiegogo. The pitch raised more than $7,000 for the nonprofit. “I was very impressed with the (YI) students,” Graves said.
In an effort to grow into a four-year social enterprise model, YI aims to add about 10 new students a year to the returning 30 alumni. “In order to make sure they’re competitive in the workforce, we’ve got to coach them towards the best paths for themselves,” Johnson said.