The Young Women's Project is a multicultural organization that builds and supports DC teen women leaders so that they can improve their lives and transform their communities. YWP programs guide young women and men through a process of personal transformation so they can become leaders in their peer groups, schools, families, and communities who are able to analyze problems, identify solutions, and advocate for change. Founded by and for young women in 1992 and operating as a volunteer collective during its first 2 years, YWP has a full-time staff of 5, 25 teen-staff, and a budget of $450,000. YWP is an organization founded by young women, grounded in young women's experience and needs, and dedicated to nurturing their leadership and building their power. Keeping with this commitment, teens work side by side adults on our Board of Directors, Staff, advisory boards and in strategic and annual planning processes. We are working toward a city where youth are involved in the decisions and institutions that impact their lives.
Based in Washington, DC, YWP programs focus on teen women but involve a growing percentage of young men (about 20% of our leaders and 40% of the youth reached through campaign activities). We involve about 40 youth each year as leaders, 50-100 as members, and hundreds more as participants in trainings, events, and campaigns. Our program approach incorporates three elements: 1) Youth development and leadership; 2) Youth-led issue campaigns; and 3) Youth-adult partnership. Through a rigorous curriculum that teaches life skills; physical, mental, and emotional health; decision making; and problem solving, YWP participants experience significant personal development and discovery. They learn that they are valuable and important, their opinions matter, and they are capable of solving problems and making good decisions. With this confidence, understanding, and power, YWP participants advance a bold advocacy agenda based on the real-life issues and leverage their power through collective action to advocate for change in their communities. Each year our programs reach several hundred young people, who in turn teach and inspire the young people and adults in their lives, resulting in a ripple effect of educating and motivating thousands.
Youth development is the first step and foundation of this work. All YWP programs are guided by nine youth-growth outcomes: 1) Youth value their opinions and views; can communicate assertively and believe that their perspective matters; 2) Youth have a strong self-concept, a powerful sense of their own worth and potential; 3) Youth are solving problems in their lives and among their friends and family; 4) Youth are self-directed; set and achieve goals; 5) Youth understand power, root causes of problems, can analyze and solve problems; 6) Youth have information, knowledge, and understanding of issues that affect them and make healthy life choices and decisions in response; 7) Youth create projects that improve the lives of teens and strengthen communities; and 8) Youth challenge and improve teen-serving DC institutions; and 9) Youth have power and a place at the table and can influence the decision making for youth programming.
Issue Campaigns are the vehicle through which our youth develop and use their leadership to challenge and improve youth-serving institutions. Each year we hire 40-50 youth who work 30 hours in the summer and 6 during the school year, earning $7.50-$9.50 an hour. About 65% of our staff has been with us for 12 months more; 35% for 6-12 months. YWP's campaign model takes teens though a youth organizing training process in which they learn critical analysis of social systems, community organizing and movement building, and campaign development. In the course of a 12 month period, youth staff set goals and build capacity in 7 individual development areas (education, relationships & permanence, system navigation, financial management, health, self advocacy, and employment). As a team, they conduct needs assessments, choose campaign issues and strategies, and receive extensive issue and strategy training. From here, they are able to train their peers, build membership, conduct research, educate policy makers, and work with leaders to develop legislation, regulations, and move policy initiatives. Campaigns are driven by long-term-system-change-focused goals. Currently, we have two. The Foster Care Campaign (FCC) develops foster youth leaders who are working – through training and advocacy – to improve educational options for foster youth, ensure more youth find permanent homes, improve conditions in group homes, and expand youth rights for the 1,200 older youth in the system. The Peer Health and Sexuality Education Project (PHASE) develops peer trainers and advocates who educate youth on sexual health issues and improve reproductive health service delivery.