We are very pleased to have Jessica McKinley, the Deputy Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs in Indiana as our guest writer this week. Hear why empowerment is so important for the work they do with youth and with their volunteers.

Each child served at a Boys & Girls Clubs throughout Indiana has a unique set of desires and contributes to a diverse range of abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Club staff and leadership strive daily to equip youth with the skills and resources needed to succeed and create a great future that allows youth to reach their full potential. Empowerment is a means to include youth in decision making, to give them a participatory role which capitalizes on their own skill and wisdom, and that increases their sense of both individual worth and commitment to their peers, their club, and their community. When we empower the youth, they gain a voice and feel empowered to stand up for change and are in a better position to implement change. Empowerment happens when youth can act after gaining a sense of power.

According to Robbins and Canda (1998) empowerment is the “process by which individuals and groups gain power, access to resources and control over their own lives. In doing so, they gain the ability to achieve their highest personal and collective aspirations and goals”. In the world of education, empowerment theory can be tied to the works of Paulo Freire (1972). Freire expressed the need to empower students by taking control over their own learning and developing a deeper understanding of one’s own position within a community through active participation and engagement. This is what Boys & Girls Clubs are doing daily and serving over 148,000 youth annually. Youth Development Professionals, administrative and leadership staff, board members, and volunteers are helping youth gain self-confidence, have a greater sense of intrinsic motivation and engagement. Rather youth are playing carpetball in the games room, creating the next Mona Lisa in the art room, completing academic enrichment in the Indiana Kids program, or engaging in community service in Keystone or Torch club leadership programs, youth are being empowered and inspired while discovering their full potential every single day.

In my leadership role as the Executive Deputy Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs in Indiana (BGCIN), I am fortunate enough to not only develop programming and create opportunities for youth throughout Indiana, but I also have the pleasure of overseeing an AmeriCorps program that had 165 volunteers serving in Indiana clubs in 2021. These volunteers implement or contribute to educational and health lifestyle programming at 31 different Indiana clubs. AmeriCorps requires an intentional 12% of total volunteer hours to be spent on professional development. BGCIN partnered with ULEAD to offer twelve virtual opportunities for AmeriCorps members and staff to gain vital leadership qualities, discover their own leadership traits and strengths, while learning about servant leadership and how to empower themselves, all while empowering youth at the club. Best of all, BGCIN has partnered with ULEAD again this program year to continue the great work being done with AmeriCorps members, but also now to provide unique, one-of-a-kind learning opportunities to club youth! Another opportunity for youth to reach their full potential while being empowered to be the change.

For more information about the Boys & Girls Clubs in Indiana or to find a club near you, please visit https://www.indianabgc.org/ or email Jessica at jmckinley@indianabgc.org

Jessica McKinley, CYC-A
Deputy Executive Director
Indiana Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs
Boys & Girls Clubs in Indiana

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Brandy Damron

Brandy attended Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana University while working full time and raising a family. She enjoys making lists, long walks on the beach, and is a 10-key ninja.

All stories by : Brandy Damron
1 Comment
  • Jessica is a leader who practices empowerment with youth workers who are tasked with growing confidence and self-efficacy in youth they serve. Due to A.C.E.s and the stress induced through COVID, among other challenging academic and social-emotional challenges, being a youth worker is not for the faint of heart. True empowerment starts with relentless optimism in the power of the human spirit to persevere through difficulties. Its leaders like Jessica, and organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs, that many youth are able to develop agency (a will) and pathways (multiple ways) to discovering who they are and how they can contribute.

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