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GRIL U Teen Leadership Program

The GRIL U Teen Leadership Program employs training and leadership work to guide its youth members into lives of community leadership. Program participants are taught to recognize and value their own influence and to use their powerful voice to fight for justice within their communities.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?  
Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders Executive Director Denise Fase: Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders teen programs give young adults an opportunity to be equipped as leaders in their homes, schools, churches, and communities. They have the opportunity to learn their wiring as leaders, their purpose as leaders and to set their goals for their futures while living out leadership with impact.
In learning their wiring, teens begin to understand themselves through various assessments. They begin to see who they are, how they operate, what they are gifted in, how they learn, their strengths and weaknesses, and why they think and act the way they do. 
Even for teens for whom being like everyone else is the most important thing, they begin to understand their value and worth
We also see teens stepping up more as leaders as they realize that everyone does not think, operate and process life in the same way.
and to appreciate their uniqueness. Slowly they begin to separate themselves from others and they begin to enjoy who they are.  
Understanding their wiring also has impact in their lives as they begin to deal with situations differently. For example, through learning assessments a teen can determine how they learn best. They begin to look at their school work and classrooms differently. If they are struggling in a class, they begin to see that a possible reason might be that the teacher naturally teaches in a learning style that is not their strength. Often you will hear a teen approach their teacher asking for help in the class based on their learning style. 
We also see teens stepping up more as leaders as they realize that everyone does not think, operate and process life in the same way. They realize that their strengths are different than those in their immediate circles. They begin to understand that often when they get frustrated with others, it is based on poor assumptions. When we understand who we are, we value ourselves and others in new ways and impact increases.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?   
We have come to understand the importance of community leadership and involvement in helping teens understand their impact through justice-focused opportunities. At the Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders, we want to be a part of the village that raises our teens and children. In GRIL U, our teens are matched with mentors in the community. We partner with existing community organizations that already have relationships with the teens—churches, youth serving organizations, and schools. Our teens work in leadership with adult supervisors. GRIL U is able to strengthen the young leaders that already exist in those organizations.  
It is scary to think about what things would be like if the village, or community, was not willing to work together to grow our young people. In Grand Rapids, we still struggle with divisions within our community. However, over the past years, walls are
When teens are challenged to become an active part of the bigger community picture, they begin to see that they have a voice and are able to use it for community change.
coming down. We are beginning to value the work of the community and raising our young people together!
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year? 
Over the past year, we have become more and more aware of how far behind academically our teens in Grand Rapids are. We have also begun to see that working to graduate our young people from high school and then sending them off to college is not enough. The reality of the poor retention rates of college students of color is causing us to figure out ways to continue the work with these young leaders beyond high school to successfully keep them in college.
GRIL U includes three teen leadership programs. These are the Church and Ministry Program, Believe to Become Summer 3:20 Program, and our new High School Ambassador Club Program. As teens attend our programs and graduate from high school, the efforts are still going on to walk with them as they are in college. 
As of April 2012, 104 teens have graduated from one of our GRIL U programs. 99 percent of these high school seniors have received their diploma. Eighty eight percent of those who have graduated from high school are in college or post high education. Eight participants have completed their post high school degrees or certifications.
What really differentiates this program? 
GRIL’s teen leadership programs are intentional and intense in walking with teens as leaders in our community today rather than in the future. The focus is on transformational growth in teens as opposed to skill development while empowering them to see themselves in new ways –creating hope and purpose for their lives as they lead. Transformational growth is not a skill that a person chooses to use or not. Rather, it is growth that changes who you are, how you see yourself and others. Transformational growth is a process, a journey of change. It is a growth that impacts the core of who you are. In some ways it is a heart change that impacts how you see and do everything. 
For example, a teen has been hurt by an experience or series of experiences in their lives may no longer trust people. They develop anger that causes them to stop or shut down. They might lose hope in addition to losing trust in others. They may become angry which impacts many things such as school attendance, grades, behavior in class, and their relationships with family and friends. Often during the nine months of weekly training, they begin to ‘re-see’ themselves and what is going on. They begin to notice the core issue in their past and then, with help from their mentor, youth worker, teacher or even their peers, let it go. They have a heart change in learning and leading and begin to move forward in their lives. They begin to look forward rather than living in the past. The butterfly comes out of the cocoon and begins to fly while leading others in this process.
What are the keys to success for your program? 
We have high expectations for these young leaders. We mandate that teens carry themselves as leaders in words and in actions. Teens are challenged to refrain from drugs and alcohol, abstain from sex, get good grades, and attend school every day. Of course, some will fail during the year. When that happens, we meet them where they are at and work through the situation. Sometimes this might lead to a teen needing to step down from the program.
We have a small staff-to-teen ratio. We set a standard of one adult for every five teens for larger impact. We offer a long-term commitment to participants and expect a long-term commitment from them. In GRIL U, we commit to more than just a leadership retreat or workshop. In nine months of training and leadership work, transformation begins to happen, and it is a life long change.
Other keys to success are community vision, impact, empowerment, and accountability. When teens are challenged to become an active part of the bigger community picture, they begin to see that they have a voice and are able to use it for community change. Teens are challenged to impact their homes, their schools, their churches, their neighborhoods, and our community. Empowerment means to give power. Not only do we empower teens, but we challenge them to empower others at home with their siblings, in their schools in the classrooms and hallways, and in their neighborhoods. Even as adults, we know the power of having accountability in our lives. Teens are held accountable in their leadership as well through their parents, youth workers, and teachers. We ask teens to define accountability in their lives – who will hold them accountable to what. 
How do you innovate programming? Where do the ideas come from? How do you know if they are going to work?
Innovation comes from research and experience. We learn from others in the community. And we hire highly trained staff, who have demonstrated success working with adolescent urban populations. We have learned from a variety of programs and organizations. We have been trained in the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative, DVULI, curriculum. It has had a huge impact in what we do.  We have learned how to see our youth as valuable assets in our communities as well as the core values of balance, interdependence, accountability, leverage and empowerment. We have also learned about the components of community from the Christian Community Development Association, CCDA. The components are redistribution, relocation and indigenous leadership. We have learned from other youth workers across the country, such as the Urban Youth Workers Initiative. As well, we have learned from youth workers and their experiences in our city.
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