YES! Youth Empowerment Seminar

Idea Leader:
Melis Odabas Geldiay

Location: Washington, DC

Partner Organization: International Association for Human Values

Project Summary: Idea Leader Melis Odabas Geldiay, 15, partnered with fellow student Natalie Cary who had a passion for sharing ways to reduce stress. The students worked with the International Association of Human Values to bring the interactive YES! Program to more DC area schools to expose youth to yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques that are so helpful in combating adolescent stress.


YES! Empowers DC Students to Take Responsibility

Nationwide, nearly one in three U.S. high school students fails to graduate. Natalie Carey and Melis Odabas-Geldiay are two of the students working to change that. Natalie, after taking a program called YES!, Youth Empowerment Seminar, felt empowered to make a difference in her community. She organized stress buster sessions at her school by hanging up flyers and talking to peers. Over 30 students and her assistant principal showed up after school for her stress buster sessions, which consisted of yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises—but she wanted to do more.

Washington, D.C. has one of the highest dropout rates in the country despite being the nation’s capital and public outcry on this issue. Natalie applied and won a $10,000 grant from America’s Promise Alliance to deliver a week long YES! Program. Melis and a team of volunteers rallied around Natalie to support her vision of bringing powerful dropout prevention programs to many students in need. From September 15 to May 31, 2011 YES! was taught to over 250 students at the School without Walls, The Academy for Arts and Education, Roosevelt High School, The SEED School of Washington DC, and the Ideal Academy Public Charter School.

YES! teaches teens to take responsibility for their health and well being and educates them in stress reduction techniques. These practices increase teens’ ability to focus and concentrate which aide in academic studies and give teens a sense of confidence and inner peace. When students increase their mental and emotional well being, they are more likely to make choices that are good for them such as staying in school.

YES! accomplishes these tasks through a dynamic interactive program. Participants do not simply sit back and listen but are given practical tools and techniques to increase energy and concentration that include breathing techniques, yoga, and relaxation methods to calm and focus the mind. Group processes create social bonds that foster human values such as compassion, trust, social service, and responsibility that go on to create healthy relationships with peers and their environment. Students are empowered to lead program activities fostering leadership and confidence for years to come.

The YES! Program model allows students to become the leaders of the program, when students feel like they own the program they are more likely to take responsibility for it. Just as Natalie and Melis were youth leaders who emerged after taking the YES! Program, this year so far two new strong YES! leaders were created at The SEED School of Washington DC. One is Joseph who is currently implementing a summer YES! camp at his school.  The other, Anthony from Roosevelt High School created a YES! club so students could continue to get together and do program activities as well as inform other schools about the benefits of YES!

Rahel from Roosevelt High School said, “We should get this at more high schools, it would be good for others to be able to take this. We have a lot of violence in east LA maybe this could do something about that.”

 The YES! youth leaders and school staff are seeing the results.

“Every 26 seconds a student drops out of school, this is something that we can do something about,” said a staff member. “Taking a program like the YES! course could be one of the things that helps students to change their path, to see that school can be a place that can not only be fun but can help them to achieve their goals.”

“I am so grateful to have this program at our school,” said Paulette Jones, Principal of The Academy for Ideal Education. “I see a difference in the students from the start of the course to the end of the course.”

YES!’s overall impact is startling. This year, over 13,000 students have participated in the YES! Program nationally. Schools have reported decreased suspensions and fights and higher tests score after five weeks in the program. But the students themselves seem to be the biggest fans.

“I feel better about myself,” said Darren from the School for Ideal Education after taking the course.