Last Spring, during a weekend event at a local high school, students got together to present their start-up ideas. However, after the event ended and kids wrapped up their presentations, one team quickly went from idea to nonprofit, all with the help of the United Way Catalyst Grant.
Britt, a local Portland high school student, founded Youth Educating Police (YEP) after completing his high school’s start-up event. Combining forces with Taji, a student from a neighboring high school, the two came together to establish this once hypothetical idea into a very tangible reality.
Britt and Taji found gaps in the way police forces, nationwide, conducted their relationships with youth. “The reason for starting Youth Educating Police was that we saw a disproportionate use of force against youth from police,” said Britt. “Police work with adults. They don’t have an opportunity to access the youth mindset or how youth can react to police in a given situation. We're trying to correct that,” he continued.
After founding YEP, Britt and Taji separated the organization into three programs that have specific roles in the overall mission: Youth Instructing Police, Youth Education Initiative and the Police Peace PDX forum. Each program plays a vital role in providing a youth-developed curriculum to use with local police officers, resources to help youth create programs that do similar work and a comprehensive discussion with a panel of youth, police force and other notable speakers to discuss current issues in a workshop setting.
Their passion behind their work stems from data-driven evidence, showcasing that approximately 3.5% of all interactions with youth and police occur between the ages of 16 and 19 and that 31% of all interactions using force from police occur within that very age group1. And as youth, there is a personal connection to the mission as well. “I grew up in neighborhoods where I'd get involved a lot with situations [where] there's been gang violence around and a lot of generational trauma that's occurred because of that,” remarked Taji.
But as juniors in high school starting a new nonprofit, finding funding for their ongoing efforts seemed impossible, until the United Way Catalyst Grant came into play.
The United Way Catalyst Grant is a responsive grant through a Catalyst Fund that offers a one-time investment to applicable organizations within the community. Once Britt and Taji applied and were approved for a one-time $5000 grant, they were able to access the full potential of their organization. With these funds, YEP was able to fund a space to host Police Peace PDX while hiring a professional consultant to work with Youth Instructing Police. The consultant went on to create connections, develop focus groups and find additional support from professionals in the area who can assist with police training – the Catalyst Grant propelled their efforts in a way they didn’t think possible.
“It's challenging. We've been working off grants that [require] five years of experience in [the] field to be able to get funding from them. That's why United Way was one of the two or three grants that we applied for. Having that come through was really helpful for us,” said Taji.
With the help from United Way, YEP is creating important relationships with the Portland Police Force and establishing a first-hand perspective in effective ways to instruct police, as opposed to organizations with a similar focus, that are run by adults. And the police are receptive, working with the organization to create a streamlined form of communication. Britt says, “It’s a two way street in that the ideal outcome of our curriculum, all of the work we do, is to build more relationships between the police and the youth. It's built on communication. It doesn't result in violence.”
And thanks to the Catalyst grant, YEP’s innovative ideas are coming to fruition by bringing about a transformation in the way police interact with youth in our region.
1. Strategies for Youth, 2012