New Orleanians live with the unfortunate truth that violence impacts all of us. We comment to one another in conversation that we have accepted the violence as “normal.” We are resigned to its presence, and we adjust our lives to accommodate it. We try to tune out the first five minutes of local newscasts as they recap the violence that occurred in the preceding hours. We are always on alert, pulling into our driveways, getting out of our cars and walking down the street.
Working with young people, we see firsthand the impacts of violence on children. Seventy-five percent of youth engaged in the Youth Empowerment Project’s intensive mentoring programs have witnessed violence, and 50 percent report having a brother or father in prison.
According to the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, 54 percent of youth in New Orleans have had someone close to them murdered, and 51 percent of youth in our city worry about violence. New Orleans’ young people show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder at four times the national rate.
YEP’s work and that of other youth-serving organizations is critical if we hope to solve violence in our community. For the past 12 years, YEP has worked with thousands of youths ages 7-24, providing them with education, mentoring, enrichment activities, and postsecondary and employment transition services. Through YEP’s proven interventions, we give our young people the skills, opportunities and hope they need for a better future — 305 YEP participants have earned their high school equivalencies (HiSET/GED), 105 individuals were connected to employment in 2015 and 44 percent of graduates are attending postsecondary institutions (which is more than two times the state average for HiSET/GED students).
Since Hurricane Katrina, much of the onus of addressing the causes of violence has fallen on non-profits, and organizations like YEP have embraced this responsibility. YEP is proud of its accomplishments and remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring that young people receive the array of supports they need to actualize their potential. However, nonprofit organizations are woefully underfunded, and we collectively cannot maximize our impact without the public’s help. You can volunteer to tutor a young adult learner who wants to improve his or her basic literacy skills, teach an enrichment class at an after-school program, donate recreation supplies to a summer camp, hire a young person or provide a child with a school uniform. Or you can write a check to your favorite youth-serving nonprofit organization.
New Orleans is a tight-knit community. We stand together in good times and bad. The future of our city depends on each of us, so please join us and do something to be a part of the solution.
Carol G. Asher
board president, Youth Empowerment Project
Youth Empowerment Project