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Young Social Entrepreneur Society

The Young Social Entrepreneur Society serves more than 200 K-12 youth from Detroit’s North End. Its unique blend of education, entrepreneurship, and employment skills training means that vulnerable kids who complete the program leave armed with real-life skills to carry them throughout life and into a prosperous, successful adulthood.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Vanguard CDC Youth Development Project Manager Domonique Baul: By framing our program with education, entrepreneurship, and employment, we provide youth with soft and technical skills that will help develop a more skilled workforce to compete in the new, innovation-based economy. They are skills that are transferrable to any working environment. Teamwork is an example of one of the soft skills. They get to plan events and also work on major art projects, such as murals -- team-building activities to build skills that are necessary to have regardless where you work.

You are going to have to work with others, take direction from others, and take ownership of your work.
The murals are an interesting way to do this and to promote positivity. In neighborhoods where there may be lots of advertising for alcohol and tobacco products, they have painted murals depicting gardening and other positive activities. Technical skills, like graphic design or video production, help young people gain a skill that will aid in entrepreneurship.
We have also tailored our program to meet the needs of boys of color who are not engaged in the classroom culture – they go to school, but they don’t like it, don’t do homework, that kind of thing.

What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
The youth are ready to lead. In the past year, seven of our youth participants have stepped up to plan and host activities. This core group has a very impressive leadership council that has done a great job.
One of our most successful ventures was our presentation during the national Allied Media Conference that was held here in June. The leadership council developed, assessed, and delivered the Vanguard Community Development Center's Youth Perspectives workshop to teach community residents and homeowners in different neighborhoods of Detroit’s North End how to share their perspectives through blogging and how to use social media to share their opinions on issues they care about, such as public transportation and lack of education, since so many schools have closed. These are people whose voices are not typically heard because of factors like their socio-economic status or age. Social media can help give them a voice.
The leadership council also held a teen party last April. They planned the music, the food, the décor, and helped budget for the party. About 150 kids came and there was not one single issue or problem. Everyone had a lot of fun.

What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
The hardest lesson learned in the past year was the current state of our youth. A great majority of the youth in our program struggle academically

That information came from just getting to know our kids and their families. Talking with each of them, going over their school progress, visiting their homes, and knowing their parents by face, not just name. That was very important. We also had them write five-year plans to list their goals and take ownership of their futures. And even though they struggle academically, we found that most goals were common. They want to graduate high school, go to college, have a good job, and have families. This has motivated us to shift the way we do programming. Through partnerships with institutions like Oakland Community College, we are providing fun and interactive learning activities like educational computer games and activities for the younger kids. Fun things like relay races: at the end of each race, they get a math problem to solve.

We have also tailored our program to meet the needs of boys of color who are not engaged in the classroom culture – they go to school, but they don’t like it, don’t do homework, that kind of thing. We give them reading exercises based on their interests.  Because of the lessons we learned this past year and the changes we have made, students have shown a greater effort to complete school assignments.

What really differentiates this program?
We know our community. We are community leaders and our staff works to develop meaningful relationships with our youth and their families. We work to empower residents in Detroit’s North End. We know our program members very well. Some of them are siblings. Some of them are cousins. Some of them live on the same streets. Some live in single-parent families.
Knowing their family dynamics is crucial. Because we do, we can go a mile deep with each child in order to inspire them to become productive members of society and leaders in their community.
Knowing their family dynamics is crucial. Because we do, we can go a mile deep with each child in order to inspire them to become productive members of society and leaders in their community.

Another thing that sets this program apart is that I, as the program manager, am an alumnus of the program. The people here helped me to develop a critical consciousness of the world around me. They taught me to look at things like political issues and how they relate, and they taught me how to speak in public.
I was like a diamond in the rough. They cleaned me up and I came out sparkling. I was in this program from age 14 to 17. I graduated 13th a high school class of 300 and I got my bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University. I am passionate about giving back to this program.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Team work. Internally, we work as a team to provide quality programming, like how to get a job and how to keep one. We teach resume writing, interviewing skills, and the job application process. We do all of this in order to create a community of caring adults for the youth we serve.
Externally, we work to connect school, home, and the neighborhood through outreach programs. We go to churches and school counselors, and we contact community leaders to see if they know families that might like to participate.

How does race or diversity affect the work of your program?
The youth we serve are primarily at-risk kids from low-income families. They are trying to be good kids, they want to participate here, and they care about their futures. About 75 percent of our kids are male, which goes back to the reason for tailoring programs to meet their needs, and all of the youth enrolled are African American.
Our staff, however, is a mixed bag. The race and diversity among our staff members allows us to discuss real world issues with our youth through multiple lenses. This helps them develop critical thinking skills and to have empathy for different cultures.

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