Community Spotlight:

Growth and Development Services

New York, NY, USA

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In the midst of COVID-19 and social unrest, feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety have accelerated in prevalence across the world. Seeing the challenges facing inner-city teens, Growth and Development Services (GDS) leveraged its past success and created a virtual program, Leaders for Change. This initiative empowers youth to reclaim their voice, gain confidence, and trains them to advocate for themselves, their peers, and their community.


Since 1996, Growth and Development Services (GDS) has been providing mental health, youth development, and intergenerational programs for marginalized inner-city youth and their families. Through its newest initiative, Leaders For Change (LFC) creates a safe haven to build connections and recover from the trauma of this pandemic. LFC provides mentorship, leadership development, counseling, job readiness, and youth advocacy, giving the youth the skill set needed to create self-sufficient, bright futures for themselves, their peers, and the community. Leaders for Change provides a needed platform for the youth to express issues, concerns, and proposed solutions for the current challenges they are facing. Together they create a safe space to develop tools to cope with the uncertainty of COVID-19, alongside social injustices that have been exacerbated. Through youth-led sessions, participants support one another emotionally, socially, educationally, and in their careers. A team of experienced staff and talented volunteers guide them in workshops, while they have the freedom to be leaders for change. The youth are presented with tools to combat stressors by learning wellness practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and the importance of self-care. These social and emotional tools empower the youth to be self-advocates and voices for their peers who may not be able to speak up. 


Leaders for Change is a yearlong, collaborative multi-faceted program that partners with other small and large nonprofits, community-based organizations, and local businesses. We partner with Inwood Community Services (ICS) in the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), and Boo from Moreofthisandlessofthat inspires the youth and volunteers through yoga and mindfulness. Dance4Hope provides the arts, dance, and spoken word component to train youth in expression and advocacy. Sheila, from Toastmasters, teaches youth communication, leadership, and public speaking. All of these components come together and have proven success in helping youth thrive at home, school, and work. As Edgar, a Youth Advocate, states “this program has empowered me to help others reach their potential by giving others the inspiration and positivity that they need.”


In the fall and winter months, LFC participants will continue to advocate by leading community events as well as receive trained mentors to give them ongoing emotional and practical support and the tools necessary to excel. As a result of the success of this diverse and inclusive intergenerational initiative, GDS is launching a movement to replicate and train other community programs on this approach; empowering youth to make our community, city, and world a better place.


To learn more about our programs visit our web site at www.excelgds.org

To join our movement, volunteer and/or become a mentor please contact Zadie Adams, GDS

Community Liaison at zadams@exelgds.org

Like us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @ExcelGDS