Philadelphia nonprofit YEAH takes an innovative approach to supporting at-risk teens and putting a stop to community violence: they host fun, educational and culturally-relevant teen hangouts.
“We live in a city with a lot of services that exist in the social service realm, but we recognize the limited to non-existent services that are appropriate for young people today or are culturally relevant for Black people,” said Kendra Van de Water, co-founder of YEAH. “In previous jobs, James [Aye; co-founder] and I were in too many positions, meetings and political spaces where the topic of discussion was always violence among young people, but young people were never in the room. We recognize the connection between poverty, access and racism, and based on our pilots and groundwork, created YEAH to elevate Black teens and young people and push back against the oppressive systems and agencies that currently serve our neighborhoods and people in a harmful way.”
Van de Water and Aye accomplish this through programs which address different areas of need in the community. Programs include Peer Mediation and Conflict Resolution, which allows youths to receive paid training to resolve conflicts in YEAH programs and elsewhere in their lives; Teen-Led Food Bank, which distributes groceries and pet food to communities in need; Teen Hangouts, which are culturally-relevant workshops that focus on stress management, trauma recovery, career readiness, current events and more; Community & Civic Engagement, which prepares youths to address systemic issues that impact their communities; and the Youth Advisory Board, which allows teens to take an active role in making decisions about the organization and the services it provides, thus shaping the future of YEAH.
An Integral Part of the Community
Both Aye and Van de Water transitioned out of their previous jobs in late 2020 to work with YEAH full time. The nonprofit has expanded beyond teen-only services to become an integral part of life for many Philadelphians.
“We have a relationship with people where they know they can call or come to us for resources and get what they are asking for. Neighbors send people to us for food, gift cards, bill assistance, etc. We are authentic and consistent in what we do, and we have built trust with our communities in a short amount of time, which reflects our genuine commitment to our people,” Aye and Van de Water said.
More broadly, the founders hope to make a positive difference in the long term.
“Impact is important to us, but sustainable impact that changes people’s lives in a meaningful way is the main goal,” they said. “We want to be intentionally rooted in the community, take care of our communities, and ensure that everyone is able to have access to basic needs. If we can help that, whether it be with home repairs, bill paying, assisting with long-term employment or other opportunities on a consistent basis, that is what we want to do on a large scale for our communities, even outside of our programming for teens and young people.”
Looking ahead, Aye and Van de Water aim to expand YEAH’s services across all of Philadelphia, and beyond. They hope that, with YEAH’s model, similar services can be offered across the United States to support Black youths and cut down on violence.
At the moment, they hope to spread the word about their work and acquire more funding for their programs. Due to its small size, YEAH does not yet have the capacity to implement certain conditions (like staff size, specific protocols, etc.) that are often needed to secure funding. As a result, Aye and Van de Water have had to pay out-of-pocket for programming and food for the teens. More funding would allow them to grow their organization and their impact, thus helping more youths and communities.
“We believe that YEAH is creating best practices specifically for Black neighborhoods and people who have not been invested in the way they should be,” the founders said. “We are showing people that when communities and people are invested in the right way, the outcomes of their lives are different, which is connected to the violence that happens in our neighborhoods. We know violence can be reduced and people can live lives they want and deserve.”