The United Way Youth Institute has a core belief: that all youth deserve opportunities in life to be successful regardless of social economic status or background. The program focuses on underrepresented, high-promise youth.
The signature United Way initiative elects high school students that are an asset to our community when it comes to leadership, economic contribution, advocacy and service. The program helps them with career and college exploration; exposes youth to community leaders in various fields; teaches them to write and implement a grant for a local service learning project of their choice; teaches them about United Way’s three pillars of education, financial stability and health; and takes them out of the country for a service learning project, cross-cultural experiences and leadership development.
This year’s class of 19 students went to the Amazon region and helped the Kanambu community. The immersive experience took the students to Ecuador, where they traveled deep into the rainforest and engaged in volunteer activities to better the community. They also learned about the impact of education and economic opportunity in the Amazon, as well as about clean water and sanitation.
“Youth Institute programs mold youth into distinct individuals that make big differences in their community as well as other communities,” says Youth Institute fellow Tanarrea. “It’s much more than volunteering projects. [It’s] training the young mind to understand what changes they want to see and how to go about pursuing them.”
Each year the application process starts in the summer, and fellows are either nominated by impact partners or Youth Institute alumni. In just three years, the Youth Institute has directly impacted a total of 55 fellows.
The fellows choose a challenge and commit a school year to trying to learn about and address the problem as best they can through workshops, volunteer opportunities and lunch and learn sessions. This year’s challenge is homelessness.
“The goal is for our fellows to continue to develop their leadership skills and positive engagement with our community,” says Director of Education, Diana Santangelo. “As staff, we work to support our youth from the sidelines, helping to empower youth leaders to use their energy, dedication and voices to make a positive impact here in Miami-Dade County and wherever their paths take them.”