The Power of Hope program reaches out to youth ages 14 to 18 with a message of opportunity, but also fun—“A Call to Youth Who Care About the World” to contribute to building a better, more universally beneficial society, and to discover their own hidden, unknown, and previously under-nurtured talents, skills, and spirit. The experience promises more than they thought possible, of themselves or of adults—and it delivers. At each camp, expert staff and trained, creative adults guide an intense community-building process. Young people find their creative voices through the expressive and visual arts, develop relationships across differences through experiential workshops, and explore ways to engage in the world through spirited dialogues and real-life experiences. In group activities, participants entertain each other in a creative space through music, dance, storytelling, and theater; youth and adults discover together that they can be “creators of culture rather than passive consumers.”
The Power of Hope attracts hundreds of adult volunteers to be mentors and workshop leaders—individuals who are passionate about life, love to work with young people, and believe in putting youth in charge. Volunteers donate more than 35,000 hours each year in Power of Hope’s home region, the Pacific Northwest. An intensive training program helps the adults tap into their own creativity, use improvisation, and learn to build authentic partnerships with teenagers. These relationships provide priceless links to adults while reinforcing each person’s creative capacity. POH has several staff and AmeriCorps volunteers at two offices in Washington State and one in British Colombia; it engages artist/trainers who help teachers and youth workers use this new partnership learning model in their programs.
Each summer the Power of Hope offers four week-long community-building camps and two “Wild Hope” environmental leadership camps (through partnerships with environmental programs). During the school year they offer weekend leadership gatherings, events, and conferences (“Make Your Mark,” “Across the Lines: Learning from Difference” and “Hip Hop Hope”) and after-school “Youth Voices” groups. To ensure individual attention and intergenerational collaboration, POH provides one adult for every two teens (a ratio unmatched by other youth programs). From the onset of each program, youth and adults are invited to take creative risks through activities like designing an “I Am” poster or joining with a few others to write and perform a poem or song for the rest of the group. These creative challenges build self-awareness and help youth and adults develop bonds of trust. The arts-based projects provide a level playing field on which youth often outshine the adults, and marginalized teens reveal previously unrecognized talents. Differences fall away, and participants can safely shed their masks and connect at a deep level. Teens can and do attend camp several times and participate in events year-round. Older teens return as volunteers or staff.
Using creativity-based practices to bridge generational, cultural and achievement gaps, POH brings together teens from all walks of life—from rural, urban, and native communities. (Over 60 percent of the participants receive financial aid; POH hosts youth-oriented events to raise funds for scholarships.) The program does not segment at-risk or mainstream youth. Instead, it helps teens develop a new reference group based on shared values and concerns. The program focuses on individual identity, group learning, group formation, and social change. The experience of being part of a creative community of mutual support has a transformative impact on the young people. Many report that they’ve quit smoking or drinking or they are attending school regularly again. Through projects they create and carry forward, the teens improve environmental, economic, and social practices in their schools, clubs, neighborhoods, and broader spheres of influence. They learn to celebrate difference, make positive choices, and make their voices heard at home, in school, and in their communities.
POH has conducted training for the Washington Service Corps, a statewide AmeriCorps program, for several years. Gear Up, a federally funded program, is funding POH to incorporate its program into a seven-year demonstration project in public schools in both the Yakima and Skagit Valleys in Washington. POH will provide teacher training as well as youth programs and volunteer training. By engaging these nationwide programs, Charlie aims to shift, through praxis, the mindset of those who work with youth in all areas.
POH staff developed a “Heart of Facilitation” training program (one weekend a month for five months) to prepare youth workers and teachers to use the model in their programs and prepare a cadre of lead facilitators for POH programs. The training proved that the principles and practices are “teachable.” With one successful replication in Eugene, Oregon, POH plans to open programs in New Mexico and in Eastern Washington, selecting partners with the social capital needed to propel the methodology into public schools, youth programs, and then into the youth entrepreneurship field. A POH training institute is being established. The entrepreneurship program, to be piloted over the next year in Seattle and Vancouver, will help youth entering the workforce learn how to build meaning and social benefit into their work.