YEP, You Need to Know About the Youth Empowerment Program
November 2020 | by rebecca stewart
In our community, a plethora of organizations seek to offer a hand-up to individuals and families during difficult times. We seek to fill the gaps in food and clothing, housing and healthcare. There are resources for every age group, yet you might be surprised to learn of the need that the Youth Empowerment Program works to meet.
The problem? Families struggling to come up with the extra funds for extracurricular activities.
Co-founded by Serena Anderson and April Sanchez in 2016, the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) was originally dreamed of by Anderson, who had first-hand experience with this problem as a teenager. The daughter of a single mother with four children, when Anderson made the volleyball and basketball teams in high school, the finances just weren’t there for that extra. As a result, Anderson shares that she found herself hanging out with bad crowds, not being able to be a part of a team sport, and "there were moments when I was young, and I cried myself to sleep, and I said to myself, 'Someday I'm going to create a program to help kids in this situation.'"
Ultimately, Anderson believes “that it’s SUPER important to empower children to give them more confidence and to help them to become the best version of themselves.”
- What activities does YEP cover? YEP offers funds for kids for typical school extracurriculars, along with dance, martial arts, non-school sports, and tutoring services.
- What are funds paying for? Sometimes it’s the enrollment/activity fee; sometimes, it's the uniform/costume. Oftentimes, YEP will be in communication with the program to see if they have any available funds so they can share the expenses – for example, YEP might sponsor a month, then the program would sponsor a month.
- Is it just for School District 2 kids? No, it’s not! It’s for kids in Billings, Lockwood, and the surrounding areas (about a 60-mile radius). Funds may be used for private tutoring, private/club sports.
Sanchez explains that "A lot of times we find it's just a family that temporarily needs help. Like, mom lost a job or dad got laid off, or you know, they've just had a hard couple months, and this kid's been in dance for five years, and they can't pay for that one competition or costume fee, so they can come to us."
As for their partnership, Anderson is the President of YEP; she oversees operations and application review and money disbursements. Sanchez functions as the Executive Director, noting that she's “kind of the boots on the ground of the organization.” She is the runner of the 3-5 family fun events held throughout the year, the meeter of the kids and families, the link between YEP and the programs.
Perhaps most remarkable, are the broader goals of YEP. They are not only the giver of funds; rather, they aim to be a broader resource – making their office (1145 Grand Avenue, #2) a place where the kids can come and print out a school assignment or find a listening ear or a safe space to hang out (complete with foosball, air hockey, a pool table, Xbox, and karaoke). While the office availability is by appointment (though it's a goal to have the office staffed with regular hours), they are working towards creating a Youth Center. Outside of the office, they eagerly anticipate moving forward with their COVID-diverted plans to facilitate Educational Seminars at the schools, bringing in guest speakers on topics like Suicide Prevention, Social Media Awareness and Safety, and Cyber Issues.
- Contact YEP: 406.697.8709 (April) | yepbillings.org | Facebook: Yepbillings
Indeed, the “E” in their organization is a guiding principle, as they feel that empowerment is also gained through knowledge. "Teaching and helping young adults to understand emotional intelligence and how to build self-confidence, and [to understand] the power their words have and the impact on their mental and emotional well-being.” Making possible opportunities for young people to engage in athletics and extracurricular activities is about so much more than playing a game. There are countless lessons to be learned on the court or field, on the stage or in the dojo. It is an opportunity to build character and develop life skills, to create connections.
A YEP Story
When asked if they had a notable story that they could share, Sanchez emotionally recalled one with a personal connection. In this situation, a mom she knew was starting a new business, so financially, things were tight. Her daughter was also going through a hard time, so they wanted to get her involved in an activity. YEP ended up sponsoring her into Billings All-Star Cheer; it was the teen's first year, and that year they went to State where she won 1st place. About 11 months later, Mom's business really took off, and she ended up donating back 25% of her sales from a November fundraiser to YEP. And that, Sanchez notes, “is how we get funding. Businesses doing sponsorships.”
Giving Back: BUSINESS OWNERS
Initially, Royal Realty got things off the ground and funded everything; now, they give back through a combination of time, donations, space, and monetarily. It’s there where the program needs other businesses to get involved and contribute. Sanchez asks business owners in the community to consider including YEP in their end-of-year giving, with the reminder that YEP is a 501c3 organization, so the donations are tax-deductible. Last year, Fischer Flooring was a vital sponsor, and their $10,000 donation made a huge impact. Sanchez reminds us that donations at YEP go immediately back to kids in the community.
Giving Back: INDIVIDUALS/FAMILIES
- Individuals or families who are looking to get involved with YEP can also
- Volunteer to help with events
- Be a Community YEP Supporter: there are three tiers of involvement; go to yepbillings.org for more information
- Donate Silent Auction Baskets or Raffle items that can be used at YEP events
Of the 3-5 events that YEP holds annually, three staples round out the calendar year. (These events are all open to the community!)
- Halloween Event- This family funhouse at the office with local businesses decorating their vehicles' trunks in the parking lot for Trunk-or-Treating had to look a little different this year to make it a non-touching event due to COVID restrictions. Be sure to mark your calendars for next year!
- Attitude of Gratitude (November)- Scheduled for November 21, 12-4pm, families are invited to come to the YEP office and create a poster. Whether simple or extravagant, the poster is all about 3 Things You Love About Yourself or 3 Things You’re Grateful For. These posters (or letter, video, or Facebook post) get you entered into a giveaway. Last year there were four raffle prizes – one of which was a full Thanksgiving dinner! This event is free.
- YEP Kids Christmas Dance Party- Tentatively scheduled for December 21, you can expect Santa, music, and maybe a dance crew! As with the Halloween event, they are trying to minimize touching and abide by regulations, so expect some differences.
This event is $10/adult, $5/kid (and includes dinner, DJ dance party, and photo with Santa)