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Asheville, N.C. – No one dreams larger than the young. Why not channel youth dreams to make our communities more vibrant and healthy? This idea comes to life through the work of Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), which trains young people to become active citizens in partnership with adults in their community.
Today, YES! received the Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award, the state’s highest honor for nonprofit organizations. The N.C. Center for Nonprofits awarded this distinction to three nonprofits that use exemplary practices in their ethics, accountability, and stewardship of the community’s trust and resources.
“We are proud to honor YES! for evaluating the difference that its work makes in people’s lives,” said Jane Kendall, president of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. “We also praise the organization’s effective use of advocacy as an important tool in achieving its mission.”
YES! recently created a report that tracks its outcomes in a simple, graphic format. “This kind of accountability is exactly what we expect for nonprofits that practice good stewardship,” said Kendall. “It shows that even a small organization can tell the story of the difference it makes in people’s lives.”
YES! also leads by example by being sure that young people are in the majority in running its organization. It has 38 employees, including 13 adult staff and 25 paid youth staff. The organization envisions a community where it is normal for organizations to engage young people like this.
“In many organizations, work is done for youth and not with youth,” said Meka Sales, who is chair of the YES! board of directors and a program officer at The Duke Endowment in Charlotte. “At YES!, high school students are hired to work in conjunction with adult staff. This helps the generations share power, which is essential for creating solutions for the challenges facing our world today.”
“Our aim is to reflect in our organization’s own practices the work we are doing in the field,” said Bronwyn Lucas, YES! executive director. “The impact of that structure is most evident when our youth go out into the community as adults, ready to change the world.”
Jhana Parikh, a high school junior in Raleigh, said, ”I've always known that youth have great ideas for positive change. The hard part is actually bringing about that change. YES! has bridged the gap between my generation and older ones, so that the change we envision can be possible.”
“The strength of leadership at YES! is incredible,” comments Jennifer McDougall, senior program officer of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. “We are continuously impressed with the framework this group uses to improve the lives of future generations.”
The organization’s approach to improving adolescent health is two-fold – prevention and advocacy. It works to increase youth access to health care and to prevent childhood obesity, teen tobacco use, and alcohol and substance abuse. It advocates at the local, state, and national levels to help ensure that our society produces healthy people.
YES! focuses on the roots of social problems rather than on their symptoms. For example, young staff members look at what is behind the health problems that plague youth. Adult mentors then guide them to identify specific actions that can help prevent these problems. Young people also determine how they will measure whether their approach actually improved youth health.
“We feel that our youth have a voice and they should use it,” explained Sales. “In all our work, we aim to walk the talk by investing time, energy, and resources in training our youth.”
Young people trained by YES! across the state helped to pass local policies for tobacco-free schools. Working with other organizations, they then helped secure passage of a statewide ban on tobacco in schools.
“These policies will yield a generation that is free of second-hand smoke,” said Sales. “This work on creating sustainable solutions delivers a measurable impact on improving health issues that are costly to the state.” The cost of chronic diseases and preventable conditions from tobacco, substance abuse, and unhealthy eating in North Carolina was $54 billion in 2010.
To encourage leadership even further, young staff at YES! also trained other youth to advocate for local policies supporting smoke-free bars and restaurants. This effort eventually contributed to legislation that enacted a statewide ban on smoking in these settings.
With offices in Charlotte, Asheville, and Raleigh, YES! now trains an average of 2,000 youth and adults each year. It focuses on young people ages 13 to 21.
“We also noted that YES! has an annual independent audit,” said CPA Walter Davenport, who serves on the N.C. Center’s statewide Board of Directors and chairs United Way of the Greater Triangle.
“Good financial management is important for all nonprofits, which must continue to earn the public’s trust every day,” said Davenport. “The N.C. Center lifts up these good practices and trains nonprofits to do the right things the right way.”
“Evaluating results is something that strong organizations do. The Center publishes a checklist of specific benchmarks to help nonprofits be effective and accountable,” says Center Board member Joni Davis of Charlotte. Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence outlines good practices in nonprofit management, governance, and leadership (http://www.ncnonprofits.org/resources/principles).
Davis and Kendall presented the Nonprofit Stewardship Award. Accepting it for YES! were Sales and Lucas, as well as Founding Board member and Vice Chair David Jolly, Development Director Emily Clabaugh, and Youth Staff Jhana Parikh.
The other 2012 Nonprofit Stewardship Award winners are Wilmington’s Cape Fear Literacy Council and Charlotte’s Apparo, which helps nonprofits with technology. The winners receive recognition from nonprofit leaders across the state and from elected officials at the local, state, and national levels.
Prudential Financial, Inc. sponsors the awards. This allows the Center to present each winner with $500 to invest in professional development for its board and staff, and a commemorative work by Durham artist Galia Goodman.
The N.C. Center for Nonprofits helps nonprofits to lead and manage their organizations effectively, reduce costs so every dollar goes further, and work together to solve social problems. Its mission is to enrich North Carolina’s communities and economy through a strong nonprofit sector and nonprofit voice. With 1,650 member organizations across the state, the Center serves nonprofits working in all 100 counties of North Carolina. For more information, go to http://www.ncnonprofits.org.