The mission of Youth Empowerment Zone (YEZ) is proactively reaching under-served, easily neglected, at-risk, urban youth, engage them in empowering activities and ideas, and provide them with resources for success. YEZ specializes in working with Columbia’s youth at greatest need, helping them obtain and retain employment, providing support and life skills training, and encouraging them to continue their education.



We envision Boone County youth who recognize their power to:

  • Believe in their own abilities
  • Think critically to make wise and healthy choices
  • Continue their education
  • Succeed in their chosen career path
  • Impact their community in a positive way



  • We believe that every young person has unique talents and abilities.
  • We believe that if provided with adequate resources and tools every young person can create a successful future.
  • We believe that positive relationships with adult role models positively influences youth.
  • We believe that life management skills are necessary for success.
  • We believe that any form of continued education can expand options and increase marketability in the workforce.
  • We believe that one’s current life situation or economic status is not indicative of their potential or ability.


In the spring of 2004, during a series of town hall meetings, City of Columbia First Ward council representative Almeta Crayton expressed concerns that the youth in her ward were often unemployed despite a willingness to work. So began the Youth Empowerment Zone.

In response to this outcry in the First Ward, a local nonprofit, Boone County Community Partnership contracted two Columbia residents, Lorenzo Lawson and Nathan Stephens, to serve as youth advocates and help youth ages 14-24 obtain employment. First Ward residents and BCCP chose Lawson and Stephens to lead the program because of their strong ties and commitment to the First Ward community. Both community activists built the program around ideas of empowerment and designed it to effectively serve those specifically at greatest risk and need. Most traditional service delivery systems are not successful with this hard to reach population. These youth tend to deal with the most difficult barriers and thereby are transient and distrustful of large systems. In building YEZ, staff had to be nontraditional in their approach and work outside of what is typically expected of a ‘program.’ They worked unconventional hours, sometimes visiting the homes of youth at 9 o’ clock at night to talk with parents or look for youth who were heading down the wrong path. YEZ staff members also make jobsite visits to act as an advocate for youth and a liaison between youth and their employers. During Youth Empowerment Zone’s first year in operation, 40 at risk youth were placed in gainful employment across Columbia. Because of their success in helping youth successfully transition to adulthood through employment BCCP accepted a contract to sponsor and implement the YEZ program.

Youth Empowerment Zone has grown to staff five people. Its mission is to proactively reach easily-neglected, at-risk, urban youth by connecting them to the ideas and activity of empowerment, and provide them with resources and networks that will help them transition successfully into adulthood. The organization continues to garner local and nationwide recognition for its efforts in helping youth succeed in work and life.


Youth Empowerment Zone offers services within our four program pillars:

  • Employment
  • Empowerment
  • Education
  • Entrepreneurship


Employment Services:

  • Job Readiness Training
  • Employment Search
  • Mentored Employment
  • Career Awareness Workshops

Empowerment Services:

  • Goal Setting
  • Anger Management
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Budgeting
  • Self Esteem
  • Parenting Session


  • Inspiring Academy After School Program
  • GED Preparation
  • College Preparation


  • E-Discovery Training
  • Workshops on Entrepreneurship
  • Entrepreneur Mentoring



What is you contact information?
Youth Empowerment Zone
1002 Fay Street Columbia MO 65201

How do I sign up a youth for programs and services at the Youth Empowerment Zone?
Youth can be signed up at the youth empowerment zone Monday – Friday. Our office hours are 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Walk-in appointments are welcomed! You can also contact YEZ to schedule a more formal visit. Youth are not required to have a parents, guardian or adult representative with them to ask for services.

What age do you serve?
The Youth Empowerment Zone works with a holistic age range of youth. Our primary target are youth ages 13-24. We continue relationships and support for those that are not within the noted age target. We consistently hold empowerment as a driving factor. Additionally, we service children ages 5-12 through our King’s Kids Early Childhood Education program.

Can you tell me more about the Youth Empowerment Zone?
Our goal every day is to proactively reach under-served, easily-neglected, at-risk, urban youth and relationally connect them to the ideas and activity of empowerment by resourcing them with information and networks to embrace a successful life in “the zone”. The zone encompasses several risk factors that youth may: developmental affects associated with living in areas of poverty within the community, socio-economic disadvantages, and hindrances in successful growth into adulthood. In order to assist in making a change in the lives of target youth YEZ operates its vision across four core-operating platforms: Education, Employment, Empowerment and Entrepreneurship. This group of Empowering Platform Principles strategically guides the Youth Empowerment Zone umbrella program model. YEZ’s programming includes “around-the-year” initiatives that emphasize healthy, proactive living and instills the value of work, self-sufficiency and success in youth.

Who will work with the youth upon arrival?
In order to execute programs effectively, YEZ operates its continuum of programming internally as well as externally with an emphasis on age-appropriate curriculum and services. Youth are provided with services offered directly here at YEZ and or are served by our “program-partners” – partner organizations in the local community. YEZ believes that collaboration is a key component of providing a continuum of opportunities for youth and a critical approach in developing a consistent, critical mass of services for youth and young adults.

What are all of the areas of health and support that YEZ provides?
YEZ offers programs that provide support within the following for platforms: Employment, Education, Empowerment and Entrepreneurship. Additionally YEZ works with various community organizations and partner programs to refer youth to needed services within the following areas: transportation, childcare, healthcare, social services, daily living services, financial management and housing.

YEZ Results

The mission of Youth Empowerment Zone (YEZ) is proactively reaching under-served, easily neglected, at-risk, urban youth, engage them in empowering activities and ideas, and provide them with resources for success. YEZ specializes in working with Columbia’s youth at greatest need, helping them obtain and retain employment, providing support and life skills training, and encouraging them to continue their education.

For almost ten years, YEZ programming has reflected the priorities of the Division of Youth Services envisioning a productive life for Missouri youth working with the family and the community to give them the ability to fulfill their needs in a socially responsible manner. YEZ emphasizes healthy, proactive living and instills the value of work, self-sufficiency, and healthy living in youth. YEZ works with children most at risk for incarceration, truancy, and drug use, helping them learn how to dream and discover a life outside of the world of poverty and crime. Our core program, job readiness training and mentoring (JRT) incorporates all of these elements. In addition, YEZ collaborates with other organizations to provide anger management training, GED classes, reentry services for transitional offenders, and support for job seekers.

In addition, YEZ is operated by an effective staff whom have completed a number of certifications and trainings that enhances YEZ’s ability to design and implement effective youth programming:
•  Harlem Children’s Zone Practitioners Institute training on the design, development, implementation and evaluation of innovative highly effective youth programming.
•  Certified youth anger management facilitation training from Anderson & Anderson.
•  Certified Gang Prevention Specialists by the National Gang Crime Research Center. Training covered root causes of gang involvement, gangs and females, gangs and the Internet, gangs and organized crime, and history of the nation’s largest groups.

YEZ is frequently featured in local publications and was mentioned last year in the national publication, Time magazine, as a sister organization of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Geoffrey Canada, the Executive Director of Harlem Children’s Zone, was listed as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2011. According to Arnie Duncan, US Secretary of Education, the continuum services developed by the Harlem Children’s Zone (which YEZ is emulating) is the template for President Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods program. YEZ’s collaborative activities, constantly aimed at building skills and improving programs for kids, are focused not just locally and regionally, but also nationally. YEZ works with and develops innovative and high quality programming that is researched-based and has a record of success.

Volunteer Center

Email us today at yezemail@gmail.com to sign up for volunteer opportunities!


  • Be a positive role model to the youth
  • Establish a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with the student
  • Act as an on site job coach to the youth by modeling good workplace behaviors, and on the job problem-solving skills
  • Spend at least one half hour per week with the youth at the job site


  • Be a positive role model to the youth
  • Establish a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with the student
  • Model good workplace behaviors, and on the job problem-solving skills
  • Provide youth with pertinent information regarding the mentors chosen career path
  • Spend at least one hour per week with the student at the mentors place of employment for 8 weeks
  • Mentors are NOT counselors, parents, loan officers, or rescuers. Their primary role is to be a positive role model, and provide career guidance and education. All mentors must complete an application, briefly interview with staff, and complete mentor training.


  • Be a positive role model to youth
  • Share work and educational experiences during Job Readiness Training
  • Answer questions about speakers chosen career path
  • Job Readiness Trainings typically occur once each month. Guest speakers can volunteer to speak for one hour for as many as 12 trainings or as few as one training.


  • Interview youth program participants
  • Provide youth with jobsite mentor


Lorenzo Lawson, Executive Director
Karita Moss, Operations Director
Katherine Wilson, Program Director                                                                                       Anthony Johnson, Youth Development Specialist
Loretta Schouten, Administrative Assistant



The Youth Empowerment Zone seeks to alleviate and combat barriers to educational growth, attainment and fulfillment that are often hindrances in developing successful lives. Education is the primary source of obtaining knowledge and performing well in society, navigating through various social and economic markets while understanding global institutions all of which can impact ones success in life.


After School Tutoring Services



The Youth Empowerment Zone realizes that a core staple to living in consistent productivity to self and as a member of the community is determined by one’s ability to obtain fulfilling employment. Education – supplanted by employment -inevitably is the key out of poverty and the many associated barriers and outcomes. Through working with youth to prepare them for vast fields of employment, YEZ’s programming opportunities develop youth for the job market in the short-term and long-term.


Youth Advisory Board

Program Participants
Ages 14-24
Strong interest in furthering positive change amongst youth in the Columbia Community.
Incentive Rewarded Position
Voice on the Board, Engagement in community meetings & advocacy, support YEZ program operations and growth.
January 1st, 2014

YEZ Youth Advisory Board Application


Job Readiness Training & Employment Search Services

*Learn 2 EARN * is a program focused on preparing participants for the workforce increasing employability through Job Readiness Training (JRT) which teaches basic, fundamental concepts of employment preparation skills. Participants are introduced to curriculum, sessions and workshops that emphasize resume building and dressing for success along with opportunities to practice simulated mock interviews.

Workflow programming teaches youth how to move to the proactive stages of employment search and job acquirement. Staff works one on one with participants to guide them through the application process connecting them to resources, local corporate and community partners for greater opportunity to land a job. Additional training includes skills interpersonal relationships and professionalism in social development which are critical keys to employment retention.



The Youth Empowerment Zone desires to help youth realize their potential for success by filling in the gaps often found in participants with low self-efficacy, low self-esteem, non-supportive environments and lack of consistent participation in meaningful extracurricular activities, community groups or leadership development programs. Addressing the psychological, social and life skills needs of youth aids in transitional development and preparation for a holistic, healthy, and inspired life.



MENtour is an internal mentorship program for young men ages 14-24 that helps promote YEZ and its services strategically to boys and young men within the community. The platform provides tournaments provide monthly sessions to increase peaceful activity alternatives including tournaments, weekend trips, lock-ins and athletic/sports opportunities.



The Youth Empowerment Zone defines youth entrepreneurship as the practical application of enterprising qualities, such as initiative, innovation, creativity, and risk-taking into the work environment (either in self-employment or employment in small start-up firms), using the appropriate skills necessary for success in that environment and culture. YEZ increases motivation, self-esteem and innovation, which also can improve self-efficacy.

Participant Enrollment

Upon arrival, youth will be connected with a Youth Specialist to review support and goal plans. The intake process.
1. Walk in & Call in for an appointment
2. Connect with Youth Development Specialist
3. Complete Program Application
4. Program Assessments
5. Get started on the journey to Empowerment!!!

Resource Center

Job Search Engines

Columbia Daily Tribune




YEZ Community

YEZ has a well-developed network of partners. We deliver services in collaboration with our partners, building the unique strengths of every organization we work with in order to provide a comprehensive program that does not duplicate already existing services. YEZ’s expertise and reputation in the community has inspired several other youth organizations to seek partnerships with YEZ to provide services for youth. For example, the CARE program often refers youth to YEZ’s job readiness training (JRT) to prepare them for CARE provided employment positions. CARE also refers older youth that they are unable to place to YEZ for employment assistance. Columbia Builds Youth has subcontracted with YEZ to provide its youth participants with specially designed youth anger management and life skills training. YEZ is also a co-founder of the Silence the Violence Movement in which YEZ collaborates with several faith-based, government and community bodies for the purpose of collectively addressing the spike of youth violence in the Columbia/Boone County area.


  • Columbia Montessori Academy
  • UCB
  • Spirit of excellence
  • Job point
  • True North
  • C.A.R.E.

Select a title below for more information

United Community Builders

Spirit of Excellence

Donate Now



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Corporate Partners

Since its incorporation in 2006, YEZ has helped over 400 at-risk youth. Last year YEZ collaborated with local businesses to create 47 new jobs for youth participants. Of the 60 children and youth who participated in our Job Readiness Training half of them increased their skills by at least 20 percent (based on pre- and post-tests). The success of the Job Readiness Training program is illustrated by our success stories, like this one published in the Columbia Business Times:

“Steve Maurer and Jackie Barnes are two of YEZ’s success stories. Both graduated high school and they were looking for full-time employment. As with other YEZ teens, Hunt first helped the two brush up their resumes and interviewing skills using computers and other job hunting tools in the office’s workroom and computer lab. Then came the process of filling out applications and actually going to job interviews.

At Missouri Cotton exchange, a T-shirt screen-printing business located in south Columbia, Barnes’ main responsibility is to sort T-shirts hot off the press. “I was nervous at first, but this has been great; I love my job and they keep giving me more things to do,” Barnes said.

YEZ not only helps at-risk youth find employment, but it also tries to establish mentorships with the youth’s employers. Walter Crook, production manager at Missouri Cotton Exchange, said he’s impressed with how Barnes matured so quickly into a significant member of his team. “I’m glad we got her; I even like her,” he said then grinned. “It’s quite possible that we’ll hire more workers from YEZ.”

The sentiment of local businesses was also described by Phillip Dercher, President of Sterling Food Service Management:

“I had a job opening, but was reluctant to hire a teen at first because it’s imperative that my staff show up on time every time, otherwise there a lot of hungry and angry people,” Dercher said. “Karita, Purvis and [YEZ Executive Director] Lorenzo [Lawson] assured me that I could trust a YEZ teen, and they were absolutely right. I’ve never had to worry …They do everything they can to help their teens succeed”

The businesses and employers below have partnered with Youth Empowerment Zone to employ qualified youth and provide them with trained and screened mentors.

  • All Star Cuts
  • Applebees
  • The Bluffs
  • Boone County Community Partnership
  • Bread Basket
  • City of Columbia (Top 5 Employer)
  • Cracker Barrel
  • Express Fashions
  • First Chance for Children
  • Frito Lay/Quaker Oats
  • Hardee’s
  • Hobby Lobby
  • Hollywood Video
  • Inter Act Teen to Teen Theater
  • MFA Oil (5 locations)
  • McDonald’s (3 locations)
  • Miller’s Professional Imaging
  • PhoneSmart
  • Sbarro’s
  • Southampton Nursing
  • Super WalMart
  • Taco Bell (5 locations)
  • Target
  • Toys ‘R Us
  • University of Missouri Health Care (Top 5 Employer)
  • Woodhaven

Contact us to become a Corporate Partner!


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YEZ we can!

Tiera Hickem

YEZ we can!Tiera Hickem was referred to the program by Job Point. She is a single mom of 5 small children ages 5, 2, 12 months and 2weeks old. She has been homeless since March. Sleeping from house to house and at one time or another even in her car. She came into the program in desperate need of housing. We were able to work closely with Love, Inc. to give her a one week stay at a hotel, so that her children and her were able to bath and get caught up on their sleep. We were also able to get her sighed up with an emergency section 8 voucher thanks Gay Littken from Columbia Housing Authority.
Tiera called yesterday filled with excitement and gratitude because she finally received her acceptance letter and her intake appointment is scheduled on July the 8th. She just couldn’t thank our program enough for being there in her time of need, when she had literally no place to go. And now Thanks to Youth Empowerment Zone her baby has a place to call home.

Namhla Noruka

YEZ we can!Namhla Noruka was referred to our program by another youth program we partner with called the CARE program. The CARE program was no longer able to work with Namhla because she no longer qualified for their program once she turned 21. Turning 21 did not change the fact that she is a single mom that recently moved to Columbia from a domestic violence homeless shelter in Kansas City. She is currently staying with her parents on a temporary basis. Namhla came into the program on May 7th and by May 10th thanks to intense job search; she not only received 1 job interview scheduled but 2. To date Namhla has been successfully placed at JcPennys, and thanks to our very own Karen she also been successfully matched with a Community Mentor, and is currently enrolled on the public housing waiting list, where she is number 8 in line.

Dajaah Daniels

Dajaah DanielsDajaah Daniels came to YEZ on September 12, 2013 around 4:30pm and stated she had a job interview at5:30pm. We gave Dajaah tips and strategies for interviewing, and then did a mock interview to prepare her for the real thing. Dajaah’s interviewed for the job and her start date is Wednesday, September 18th!
“The Job Readiness program helped me greatly. I started off being so nervous I wanted to give up to being very confident about myself. It’s a good program to be in and it’s a big help!” -Dajaah Daniels


“YEZ group sessions helped my self-esteem more than anything. Sure, they gave us skills to help prepare us for the workforce, but they gave me the knowledge to work from the inside out; so that I can truly succeed. There is no where but up from this point on.


Emmett is a participant that recently completed JRT.  Armed with a renewed confidence and cover letter/resume, that we developed in JRT, he successfully interviewed for and received a volunteer position with a local computer repair center (his passion is working on computers). Emmett thanked me and told me to pass a thank you on to Katherine as well for helping him with his confidence. He said he is still volunteering and that he wouldn’t have been able to have done it without us.

Chaneya Harris

Chaneya is working for both Break Time and Columbia Tribune. Chaneya is very thankful to be working and states that she could not have found her jobs without YEZ. Her son Trevon is a Kings Kid.


Merissa continues in her mentor matched employment this fall with corporate partner KFC!


Tiffany has successfully completed JRT and after weekly job search efforts she can now be seen working at Walmart on Conley!


Simone has secured employment after extensive job searching!


Naketa has been promoted to shift leader now at her place of employment!


Youth Empowerment Zone

1002 Fay Street
Columbia, MO 65201

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