YELLS empowers youth to rise as active, healthy, and productive servant-leaders within their communities. Youth Empowerment through Learning, Leading, and Serving, Inc. (YELLS) is a 501(c)3 non-profit youth development organization based in the Franklin Gateway community of Marietta, Georgia. By providing youth with marketable skills, support, and opportunities, we inspire them to invest in themselves, in their educations, and in their communities.
Whether they are kindergartners or high schoolers, YELLS youth participate in innovative programs that combine mentorship, character development, academic achievement, community involvement, and service learning. From Afterschool Program participants who learn that daily acts of kindness can be fun, to Mentoring Program participants who are inspired and inspire in turn, to Community Action Café participants who have made successful government proposals to shape the identity of their community, YELLS youth receive support from the programs but also shape them as they assert their voices as community leaders.
YELLS provides a safe haven for youth in the Franklin Gateway neighborhood while empowering them with the skills, resources, and character they need to serve as effective leaders and community members. Leadership workshops, arts enrichment, recreational activities, and academic support all work together, along with parent workshops and engagement, to build assets for youth and to promote stronger, healthier communities.
YELLS envisions communities where youth have voice and value and ensures they possess the leadership skills, confidence, character, and collaborative networks needed to shape their world. If given the opportunity and the tools, young people will innovate to solve problems and build community. YELLS brings together partners, parents, and residents to foster a culture of learning, leading, and serving that puts youth at a competitive edge in school, in the community, and in life.
YELLS was founded in 2008 through a collaboration between teachers, schools, non-profit organizations, community organizations, and community members. Marietta High School English teacher Laura Keefe recognized the power of youth voice, and a community came together to enact that vision in the first YELLS program, the Mentoring Program.
A series of community partners including the Franklin Road Weed and Seed Project, the Marietta Police Athletic League, Marietta City Schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Franklin Road Community Association, Marietta High School, and Park Street Elementary School came together to customize the YELLS Mentoring Program model to meet the needs of the Franklin Road community. The community has since been renamed Franklin Gateway, in part due to the efforts of YELLS youth.
The flagship YELLS Mentoring Program matches high school “Bigs” as mentors for elementary school “Littles” and empowers them to lead large-scale service initiatives. From its location within the children’s own neighborhood to a commitment to engaging youth as community organizers, everything about YELLS centers on building community through service and collaboration. The result has been youth with confidence, character, and academic excellence.
Since the launch of this innovative service-learning model, YELLS has developed as an organization and worked tirelessly to expand its reach and to fill service gaps within its community. After the success of the Mentoring Program, the City of Marietta asked YELLS to expand its services to provide daily programming through the YELLS Afterschool Program, filling the gap left by the closing of the Franklin Road Boys and Girls Club in 2010.
Until the launch of the innovative YELLS Community Action Café program in 2014, however, there was still a gap in daily programming for high school youth. Now, Franklin Gateway teens are fully engaged and immersed in community building as they manage the Café as a social enterprise.
YELLS still strives to grow its reach and hopes to secure funding to launch a new program for Middle School students so it can serve youth across all age groups in the Franklin Gateway neighborhood.
The YELLS model works because it nurtures the strengths of our youth and sets high expectations for the community. As they grow, we don’t just nurture students’ academic strengths and leadership skills, but challenge them to be peacemakers.
Beginning in kindergarten, we talk to children about leadership and body language. Second graders team up with police officers to survey their own community. Armed with a camera, they work together to identify strengths and determine how weaknesses are merely areas for growth. We look to fifth graders to provide guidance for younger first-grade buddies. We provide high school students with business cards and position them to network with professionals and to lead community events and service projects.
Each youth has a role in the program and in the community, and all are expected to serve as role models as they become the next generation of mentors.
Parents are similarly challenged to emerge as servant-leaders and role models in their communities. Rather than charging a fee for youth programs, we expect parents to stay actively involved by attending parenting workshops, volunteering in our programs, and participating in community events. YELLS feels strongly that our role is to position youth and families to serve themselves. By empowering community members to take ownership of change, the whole community grows together.
YELLS teens produced this documentary to share the history and celebrate the strengths of their Franklin Gateway community.