At the peak of the pandemic, an innovative youth leadership program was dropped by its sponsor. Now the former executive director and alumni are fighting to keep the program going. The Youth Leadership Initiative teaches leadership skills to young adults in the east metro area. The former director of YLI, Nou Yang, was aided by alumni Lori Vang on a Zoom call with a reporter on Jan. 30.
Last spring, the program was terminated by the Wilder Foundation. Yang lost her job and Vang was outraged. In response, they both called out to the community for support in order to revive the program. Without the resources that the Wilder Foundation had set for them, they had to find new funding sources.
At the peak of the program, 60 to 80 students were reached. Due to loss of funding, only 40 students are in the program today. Fifteen people have now joined the battle for the program to be resurrected.
As a former participant, Vang has the utmost respect for YLI.
“YLI invests their time in youth and rather than telling us what to do, they give us the space to explore ourselves,” Vang said.
During her first year of high school, Vang said she had a rough time and didn’t understand what community meant. But with the skills she learned at YLI, Vang was able to facilitate a workshop for 30 statewide 4-H ambassadors.
Due to the loss of funding during the pandemic, the YLI budget has been cut more than a half. Now Yang is working to raise the rest of the funds.
Yang said during the years she worked at YLI, she never wrote grants — but now she is. Yang feels excited to be in charge of YLI now and to be able to determine what they want from the program.
“YLI has taught me to see the world as it could be — what it means to truly be in community, to lead with our hearts and minds, and to let young people lead,” Yang said.
YLI serves the community as a way to help the next generation.
Diversity plays a big part in the program. Every year the program serves about 50 youth of diverse backgrounds. YLI is a place where people of color can explore themselves and expand their knowledge of other cultures.
YLI is still breathing and refuses to be demolished. It helps young adults with skills that they will need in the long run. Without the help of their former parent organization, YLI staff and supporters will extend their hands to the community and strive to be better.