Who We are
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 with two Columbia residents, Lorenzo Lawson and Nathan Stephens, to serve as youth advocates and help youth ages 14-24 obtain employment. Lawson and Stephens were chosen because of their strong ties and commitment to the First Ward community. They built the program around ideas of empowerment and designed it to effectively serve those at greatest risk and need.
Lawson recognized that traditional delivery systems are not successful with this hard to reach population. These youth tend to deal with the most difficult barriers, 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 serve as 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. Youth Empowerment Zone has grown to a staff of five people that served over 200 at-risk youth in 2015. Its mission is to proactively reach easily-neglected, at-risk, 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.
What We Do
- Job Readiness Training
- Employment Search Assistance
- Mentored Employment
- Career Awareness Workshops
- Career Planning
- Goal Setting
- Anger Management
- Conflict Resolution
- Self Esteem
- Parenting Skills
- Inspiring Academy Childcare
- GED Preparation and Support
- College Preparation and Support
- Workshops on Entrepreneurship
- Entrepreneurship Mentoring
- Black Men Rock
- An award ceremony honoring men of diversity making a positive impact on their community.
- Fashion Show (in partnership with Stephens College)
- Provides mentoring and support in education and employment for at-risk youth.