My daughter Sophie is six years old. She often plays with the kids in our neighborhood by running back & forth between our respective houses. One day she went to our neighbor's house after making Play Doh and slime (slime is all the rage right now). I sat down to get some work done, and about 20 minutes later, the neighbor kid's dad texts me asking to send his son home. I respond, "I thought they were at your house...?" He responds, "I thought they were with you." Panic-stricken, we both fly out of our houses and begin looking everywhere for our kids. As I turn the corner, I see this father and he shouts to me, "They're right there," pointing towards a different portion of the street. I immediately run to the corner so I can be SURE they are okay. I see Sophie and her friend from a distance and ask them, "What are you doing?" The rest of the conversation went something like this...
Sophie: "We're selling stuff!"
Me: "What?" (Walk quickly towards them)
Sophie: "We're selling stuff - look we made $5!" (She proudly held up her $5 bill)
Me: (Staring at them in a confused and frustrated manner)
Sophie: "I sold my Play Doh for $5 and we're still looking for someone to buy his slime."
Me: "Selling stuff to WHO?"
Sophie: (Pointing in the direction of a different neighbors house)
Me: "I don't know if I'm comfortable with you going door-to-door selling stuff just yet. Let's go home."
We walked home and I had a very stern talk with her about why that entire situation wasn't working for me. But then I asked her, "You want to sell stuff?" She got VERY excited and we agreed to make a lemonade stand later that week. It then morphed into a lemonade stand/nail salon, and finally we are moving into making "youth empowerment jewelry."
You might be asking yourself, "how does this have anything to do with youth empowerment?"
I have a deeply engrained sense of making sure kids in the world know that there is someone out there that SEES the good in them, finds the spark in them, and empowers them to do something with it and achieve success. Two other situations where I've actively done this:
I created a math course - at the school of origin, it was titled "Math Applications," the other school it was titled "Real Life Math," then finally it was going to be changed yet again to "Financial Literacy." Either way, the one thing that remained CONSISTENT was the content I was teaching kids. I taught things like:
how to balance checkbooks,
saving for retirement, etc. But the REAL empowering part of the class is that I used my financial failures to teach them about how the world works. See...I taught them about how unfortunately we live in a capitalistic society - meaning - the thing people care most about in the USA is money...making money...having a lot of money...flaunting their money, etc. So if any of my students ever found themselves in a position where someone was OVERLY excited about selling them something, it was probably because they were going to make money off of the ignorance of the person they were selling to. I used to say to my students, "People in the world are banking on the fact that you don't know what you're doing. They are banking on you being dumb, which is precisely why I am arming you with the knowledge and tools you need to not fall into that trap like I did." Kids appreciated it and KNEW I had their backs - I was looking out for THEIR best interest. I was equipping them with tools and knowledge to help THEM be successful. THAT is youth empowerment.
I created an entire pathway at a Title 1 high school. For those not "in the know" with education lingo, Title 1 refers to a school that has a very high percentage of kids and families living in poverty. I was given creative control to create this pathway, and thus approached it from a "youth empowerment" standpoint. I titled the pathway "Innovation & Design," (iD for short). I wanted to include any and everything that the kids who signed up for my pathway wanted to embark on. While I had a background in engineering, math, art, music, etc., I wanted to ultimately help empower kids and help them find their spark, expose the greatness within them, and lead them to success with the tools in the pathway. Kids loved it - I was equipping them with knowledge and tools to help THEM be successful - I was looking out for THEIR best interest. THAT is youth empowerment.