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(The YES! Newsletter is a quarterly publication in English and Spanish of the YES! Project)

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YES! Portfolio

Youth Empowerment Strategies (YES!)

En Español: Estretategias de Liderazgo para los Jóvenes

Funding Agency: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Dates: 2002 - 2006

Staff: S. Leonard Syme (principal investigator), Nance Wilson (co-investigator, and research program director), Stefan Dasho (research scientist), Anna Martin (research scientist), Javier Ruiz, (office manager)

External Co-Investigator: Nina Wallerstein 

Consultants: Meredith Minkler, Steve Selvin

Project Partners: Caroline Wang, Healthy Neighborhoods Project

The Youth Empowerment Strategies (YES!) project is a community-based afterschool participatory prevention program and research project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The YES! program works with 5th through 7th graders from six underserved schools in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The purpose of the YES! afterschool program is to build on the existing capacities of youth in these low income neighborhoods to help them engage in social action (or civic participation). It is designed to do this by promoting problem-solving skills, and by working with them develop the tools to identify, study and address issues of shared concern, on the school and neighborhood community levels.

YES! group members learn approaches for determining assets and issues in their school and neighborhood communities, and then design and implement social action projects to address the root issue, as they understand it.

The YES! research project component is designed to assess whether participation in these kinds of activities increase the adolescents' sense of hope for the future, sense of individual and group efficacy, civic participation and promote positive changes in risk behaviors. Specifically, the aims of the project are to test the hypotheses that Photovoice, empowerment education and other participatory action research (PAR) approaches will (1) influence empowerment at the individual, the group and at community levels, and (2) positively influence children's health attitudes and behaviors, including increasing conflict resolution skills and participation in school and volunteer activities, as well as decreasing aggressive or delinquent behaviors, violent intentions, alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use. It's important to note that the YES! program's focus is on enhancing the strengths and capacities of the children as they transition into adolescence and into middle school, and not directly on changing risk behaviors.

The YES! research project is based on a model of risk proposing that individuals living in disordered or disorganized neighborhoods are more exposed to environmental and social challenges where they live. In areas where there is a high level violence, people often feel they have limited control over what happens to them. These challenges then affect individuals' beliefs and attitudes, decreasing a sense of hope and purpose in life, and increasing feelings of powerlessness, and depression. Changes in feelings may result in negative health behaviors, such as smoking, eating poorly and not exercising (although the latter two behaviors may be from the lack of access to healthy foods or safe places to exercise) often leading to poor health outcomes, both at the individual level and at the neighborhood level. In adults, researchers study diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, cancers, etc. In adolescents, we need to look at behavioral risk factors as the health outcomes.

The YES! intervention model hypothesizes that involvement in the YES! groups will positively influence participants' attitudes and beliefs. That is, wherever they are on a continuum from negative to positive beliefs and attitudes, people will become more hopeful, less depressed and less alienated, and thus have greater future orientation, social cohesion, sense of perceived influence, and individual and group efficacy. Anticipated proximal outcomes for the intervention include collaborative decision-making, conflict resolution, and increased political participation. In the long term, these intermediary experiences and capacities are expected to result in positive changes in health and wellness.