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In the heart of Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, there’s a place where teens are welcomed, encouraged, and challenged to become leaders. Kayla and De’Shawn are among many who’ve found growth and fun in the Catholic Charities Teen Leadership Program. The summer and after-school programs focus on career exploration, college preparation, employment, service learning, creative writing, and media technologies.

16-year-old De’Shawn is an 11th grader at St. Joseph Villa Angela High School who worked two paid summer jobs as part of the leadership program. At the St. Martin de Porres Family Center, he was selected to be a group leader, acting under the supervision of the Site Administrator and the Director. In this role, De’Shawn supervised other teens helping senior citizens, from serving meals to playing games. “It was challenging to be telling older kids what to do. I had to adjust, but then it became natural. They started asking me what to do, and it turned out to be fun. It helped my social and leadership skills. I made friends and I woke up wanting to go to work!”

De’Shawn learned how to speak to all kinds of people in a professional way and manage his time efficiently. He’s gained confidence around older people, appreciating their perspectives and then sharing what’s different about his generation.

He encourages other teens to get involved in the leadership program. “You learn what you want to do in life and build your character,” he says. De’Shawn plans to attend college and pursue a field where he can help others, perhaps as a social worker or therapist.

Kayla is 17 and a senior at St. Martin de Porres high school. She’s been in the Teen Leadership programs since 8thgrade, learning how to help younger kids with homework, how to produce podcasts, and do research and presentations on social projects.

She was especially impressed with the “Black Wall Street” project about the 1921 massacre in a Black cultural and economic center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. An angry mob of white rioters destroyed businesses, homes, churches, and more. “It solidified my interest in being a business owner and entrepreneur,” says Kayla.

She found the leadership program to be welcoming, with students treating each other like family. “It’s a relief from the stress of school. I’m introverted, and this program helped me open up and grow socially. It’s fun and I’ve made friends.”

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