Youth & Teens

Strong youth programs can mitigate the influences of poverty by improving school performance, cultivating talents and skills, connecting youth with positive role models and preparing them for future careers.

  • Strengthen and expand afterschool programs, especially mentoring, for at risk children.
  • Enhance career pipelines for youth into good-paying jobs in the skilled trades that do not require a four-year college degree.
  • Expand violence prevention and remediation programs for youth.
  • Why This Strategy Matters

    More than one out of every five children in Buffalo Niagara, over 50,000, live in poverty. These children are more likely to live with single parents who often work multiple jobs to support their family, limiting their time at home. Children in poverty are concentrated in urban areas with legacies of disinvestment and limited economic opportunities. Based on insights from residents, children in these neighborhoods sometimes see illegal activity as the best way to make money. Without intervention, children raised in poverty are more likely to struggle in school, drop out, and continue the cycle of poverty. Afterschool and summer programs can give youth constructive ways to spend their time while gaining positive influences and skills that can lead to a bright future.

  • Potential Action Steps

    Raise awareness of existing programs by including providers and programs in any directory of human services. Develop informational material about these programs for dissemination to parents.

    Build a school-based peer mentoring program to support at-risk youth.

    Expand afterschool programs that develop job skills and expand career pathways for youth such as career mentoring, internships and YES (Youth Engaged in Service) program.

    Explore partnerships that would offer quality bus transportation from after schools programs to a child's home.

    Connect youth and older residents though intergenerational afterschool programs involving mentoring, tutoring, and youth entrepreneurship.

  • Potential Actors in the Community

    Public school districts
    Youth services organizations
    Religious organizations

Models to Consider

  • Friends of the Children

    Portland, OR and various locations across the U.S.

    Friends of the Children connects a salaried, trained professional mentor with children who are statistically the most at-risk for continuing the cycle of poverty in their lives. The organization guarantees that children who enter the program will have a mentor who spends at least 16 hours per month with them, for 12.5 years (from Kindergarten through graduation). Mentors work with children in their communities while focusing on nine Core Assets aimed at the social and emotional development of youth. The program is funded through government grants, philanthropic gifts from foundations and corporations, and through individual donations. Independent researchers have examined the results of the Friends of the Children model, and found positive results. Children in the program show improved social skills and behavior, a higher likelihood of graduation, a lower chance of incarceration, and a 7:1 return on investment through decreased criminal justice and public health costs.
  • Grandparents as Reading Partners (GARP)

    Akron, NY

    The Grandparents as Reading Partners (GARP) program at the C. Dee Wright Center in Akron, New York brings together "grandparents" (older adults) with elementary students from the Akron Central School District twice a week. Not only does this one-on-one attention improve the reading ability of the child participants, but it also fosters inter-generational relationships within the Akron community.
  • Sharing Teens and Elders Program (STEP)

    Olympia, WA

    The Sharing Teens and Elders Program (STEP) was founded in 2014 by a Cognitive Trainer and Certified Geriatric Specialist, and is now operated in partnership with Senior Services for South Sound. The program aims to increase mental health and decrease social isolation for both youth and older adults by bringing these two groups together. Participants in the STEP program meet monthly, with approximately 50 people attending each month, and since 2014, a total of 100 youth and 70 older adults have participated in the program. An offshoot of the program, STEP 2, provides a safe space for women and girls of all ages to discuss women's issues share their personal experiences with each other. The founder of STEP is now working on a manual so that others can replicate the STEP program nationwide.
  • Compeer

    Buffalo Niagara Region

    Founded in Rochester, New York, in 1973, Compeer is an international organization with over 51 locations worldwide, but its headquarters are in Buffalo. There is another local chapter in Niagara County as well. Compeer's mission is to combat the social isolation and loneliness experienced by those facing mental health challenges by pairing its clients with volunteers, who spend at least four hours one-on-one doing activities together with their "match." Compeer has a client base of over 2,000 people of all ages, from children to older adults, as well as a special focus on veterans. In addition to facilitating one-on-one supportive friendships, which helped over 300 people in 2018, Compeer Buffalo is also the largest provider of Mental Health First Aid training in Erie County, having trained more than 2,500 people since 2014. Those who are trained in Mental Health First Aid learn to recognize and respond to the signs of mental illness and substance abuse.
  • Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center

    Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center

    Buffalo, NY

    The Matt Urban Center provides a range of housing and community services such as homebuyer programs, senior services, food assistance, and youth after school programming. After school programs offer academic enrichment and development through tutoring, mentorships, cooking lessons, and entrepreneurship classes. There are also recreational programs like theater, sports activities, and bicycle building workshops. Teen students have access to the teen workforce development program. The Matt Urban Center is funded through a combination of public and private funds (i.e. City of Buffalo, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, M&T Bank, etc). In the past year this center has served 690 children through summer programs, after school programming, and teen workforce development. Such programs help to keep youth engaged in positive activities and reduce involvement in behaviors that would put them at-risk.
  • Why This Strategy Matters

    Nearly 25,000 young adults without children in Buffalo Niagara live in or near poverty. While 11% of them have dropped out of high school, an even higher percentage—36%—have a college education, perhaps in a field where there is a surplus of graduates and limited job opportunities. Insights from residents suggest that a high school diploma alone does not equip youth with the skills needed to find good-paying jobs. Meanwhile, employers in industries like manufacturing and clean energy report hard-to-fill higher paying jobs in the trades, many of which require skills and training beyond high school but not a four year college degree. Training programs that prepare students for in-demand, higher-paying jobs that do not require a college degree can lead young adults to rewarding careers.

  • Potential Action Steps

    Develop a career mentoring and internship program for teens through the local chamber of commerce or industry association.

    Consider developing a YES (Youth Engaged in Service) program that offers teens out-of-school volunteer opportunities where they cultivate job skills through service learning.

    Engage area employers in sponsoring in-classroom speakers, facility tours, internships, externships, and career mentors for students.

    Raise awareness among students of the longer term, higher paying job opportunities and skilled training offered by unions and apprenticeship programs.

  • Potential Actors in the Community

    Workforce development organizations
    Public school districts
    Community colleges
    Business community and industry organizations
    NYS Department of Labor and other government agencies
    Economic and community development organizations

Models to Consider


    Buffalo and Alfred, NY

    The P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) Program is a collaborative educational model that has been implemented in many regions across the nation with the goal of getting more young students interested in good paying, entry-level jobs in high growth fields in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In Buffalo, McKinley High School’s Buffalo Employment Green and Renewable Energy Education Network (BEGREEN) P-TECH program prepares students for jobs in green construction with a focus on carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC. Through BEGREEN, students earn a high school diploma along with a no-cost, two-year college degree in occupational studies from Alfred State by taking college-level courses. Students can also explore green careers through company tours, mentors, paid internships and other hands-on experiences. In past years, students toured places like KeyBank Center and National Grid's control center to learn first-hand from industry professionals about their job responsibilities and corporate sustainability. The program was funded through a seven-year NYS P-Tech grant that began in 2014.
  • Town of Amherst Youth Engaged in Service (YES)

    Amherst, NY

    Established in 1974, the Youth Engaged in Service (YES) volunteer program gives students ages 12-21 opportunities to engage in community service. Students serve a broad array of constituents, including children, older adults, low-income families, persons who are mentally and/or physically challenged, and charitable organizations. Students sign up for activities on a monthly basis. These include visiting libraries to assist with children’s reading activities, visiting nursing homes to assist with recreation programs, helping PTA parents attend meetings by providing child care, visiting the WNY Food Bank to sort food, and volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. The program is funded through a combination of sources, including the Town of Amherst, the NYS Office of Children and Family Services, periodic donations from agencies served, and fundraising efforts.
  • Why This Strategy Matters

    Youth who live in areas with concentrated poverty, poor educational facilities, limited job opportunities, and limited recreational outlets are at greater risk of perpetuating or falling victim to violent crime. About 30% of all children in the region (over 69,000) live in a neighborhood of concentrated poverty. Among teens age 16 to 19, those living in a neighborhood of concentrated poverty are two times more likely to not be employed or enrolled in school. Along with improving the quality of their neighborhoods, youth need community supports that steer them toward positive outlets and strengthen their capacity to excel in educational and professional endeavors. Taking steps to nurture mental health and mentor vulnerable youth makes them less likely to engage in harmful practices.

  • Potential Action Steps

    Provide mental health services that address trauma and cognitive behavior.

    Provide free or affordable recreational outlets for youth.

    Provide past offenders with a second chance to education and employment through GED certification and workforce development training.

    Explore options for offering services to youth within the school district or nearby within the community.

    Develop a vision for youth substance abuse prevention that engages the school, parents, youth, youth program providers, law enforcement, and mental health professionals.

  • Potential Actors in the Community

    Mental health service providers
    Social services providers
    Community centers
    Youth service organizations
    Public school districts
    Anti-violence/crime community organizations

Models to Consider

  • Safe and Successful Youth Initiative in Massachusetts

    Safe and Successful Youth Initiative

    Various locations in Massachusetts

    Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) is a violence prevention program in the state of Massachusetts that targets youth in 11 cities throughout the state, including Boston, Springfield, and Worcester. The initiative targets young men believed to be at risk for violent behavior and involved with firearms. Using a public health approach, the initiative provides these men with services such as counseling, mentoring, and more. American Institutes for Research lauded Massachusetts for being one of the only states to utilize research-based approaches to violent crime reduction at a multi-city level. Between 2012 and 2013, SSYI prevented nearly $15 million in crime victimizations in Boston and Springfield.

    Western New York is a public awareness initative led by Mental Health Advocates of WNY, with the goal of encouraging those who suffer from mental or behavioral health issues to seek help as early as possible, decreasing the likelihood of the issue turning into a crisis. Its intended audience are youth and young adults struggling with depression, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, or sucidial thoughts as well as the trusted adults (coaches, teachers, etc.) that these youth and young adults may confide in. has toolkits available for download for various mental health issues as well as a toolkit for members of the media to address how mental health is depicted in the media. All materials are available in several languages (Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, Karen, Nepalese, Somali, and Spanish).
  • Youth Build Program

    Youth Build Program

    Somerville, MA and various locations across the U.S.

    The Youth Build Program is a global youth initiative that strives to rebuild communities and people by constructing community centers, affordable housing, schools, and other valuable community assets. To make these developments possible, the program teaches low-income youth construction skills that they can use to give back to their community. The program focuses on people ages 16-24, providing opportunities for those without diplomas to obtain their GED and learn valuable construction skills. As a 501(c)(3) YouthBuild receives funding from public and private donors. The Youth Build Program has constructed more than 32,000 affordable housing units across the US and 74% of participants received high school equivalency diplomas or industry recognized credentials.

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