Youth Empowerment Program (YEP)
Based in West Philadelphia at Paul Robeson High School for Human Services and William L. Sayre High School, AUNI’s Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) provides food education and urban agriculture to approximately 60 high school students, or Youth Wellness Ambassadors, during the school year and 75 students during the summer. AUNI empowers the selected teens to explore and identify solutions to health disparities, promote healthy lifestyles, and build a just and sustainable food system.
By teaching healthy cooking classes, tending school gardens, and operating a school-based CSA, Youth Wellness Ambassadors increase access to local, organic, affordable, nutritious, and culturally-relevant food; create tools to build food sovereignty; provide a space to deepen our relationship to the land, our food and each other; and improve community health while developing academic and job skills. The students also play a lead role in advancing youth-led solutions to improving community food systems through participation in regional and national networks and conferences such as the Growing Power Conference, the Alternative Model United Nations Conference on Water, and Rooted in Community.
AUNI’s school garden crews increase access to locally grown, chemical-free produce in the West Philadelphia community and strive to improve the health and wellness of program participants as well as the community at large. They achieve this by tending, harvesting, and marketing fruits and vegetables from the Sayre and Robeson High School gardens for inclusion in the Good Food Bag program, a weekly, low cost CSA distribution of fresh produce (with related healthy recipes and healthy tips) provided to Sayre Health Center community members. We are currently working to expand the Good Food Bag CSA program to include residents in close proximity to Robeson High School. Excess AUNI school garden crew produce is also donated to community food cupboards. YEP students gain valuable experience in food systems, horticulture, entrepreneurship, community service and leadership through their innovative indoor and outdoor garden work.
AUNI’s Youth Wellness Ambassadors participate in four after school crews — Food Education Squad (FEdS, the Robeson High School cooking crew), G-Squad (the Sayre High School garden crew), Nutrition’s Most Wanted (NMW, the Sayre High School cooking crew), and Robeson’s Outdoor Oasis Teaching Squad (ROOTS, the Robeson High School garden crew). Each crew is led by an AUNI nutrition educator and works to address rising occurrences of obesity-related illnesses in West and Southwest Philadelphia by emphasizing wellness and nutrition through healthy cooking and urban gardening. Youth Wellness Ambassadors use research-based curricula such as Think AHEAD, Healthy Habits, and Growing Food to teach hands-on, interactive lessons in nutrition, cooking, recipe development, and healthy habits at their high schools and at West and Southwest Philadelphia-based community sites including other schools, homeless shelters, recreation centers, senior centers, and faith-based institutions.
College and Career Readiness (CACR)
To empower youth with the tools to take control of their education and navigate life after high school, AUNI hosts weekly CACR seminars that address the challenges youth will face in college and the professional world. Youth work together in peer groups to reflect on their academic progress, set goals for the upcoming week, and hold each other accountable for successful progress. Youth also participate in study hall time where they work on assignments, receive tutoring, and engage with mentors from the University of Pennsylvania. For youth struggling to maintain a C grade or above in all of their classes, AUNI provides a framework for youth to create an Academic Growth Plan that partners with parents, teachers and AUNI supervisors. The CACR program leads field trips to local colleges, universities and career centers, provides externships for youth interns during the summer before their senior year, and hosts events for parents that help to bridge the college access gap.