Photos Courtesy of Adobe Stock | wavebreak3
Wilmington nonprofit Four Youth empowers underserved Delaware youth to dream big as they transition into adulthood.
The education-based nonprofit launched in 2013 as a way to help students from diverse and often challenging backgrounds navigate their formative years in a safe, supportive environment. The organization fosters intellectual and creative growth with an emphasis on practical skills and tools instrumental in achieving future success.
“Four Youth really started with a desire to pave a way to opportunity,” explains founder Theresa Emmett, who conceived the idea for the nonprofit while teaching an after-school program at Thomas Edison Charter School. Realizing that many of these kids—some as young as 10 years old—had internalized the systemic lie of limited potential.
“They had created these invisible barriers to what they believed was possible in their lives,” Emmett explains. “We wanted to break through those barriers and give them a space to explore the limitless potential of career opportunities they didn’t even know existed.”
Anchored by four essential pillars—education, mentorship, employment and scholarships—Four Youth provides supplemental STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) programming for grades K-12 that invites discovery, inspires initiative and encourages entrepreneurialism.
Approximately 400 Delaware students participate annually in Four Youth’s after-school programs that feature an innovative curriculum combining science, cooking, engineering and photography with opportunities for employment, mentorship and scholarships.
“Two things that make our program strong and unique is that we directly integrate art—primarily photography—into our science and engineering programs,” Emmett explains. Guided by professional photographers and designers, Four Youth students infuse elements of math, science, engineering and nature into creative projects. By later selling their artwork at local art exhibitions and festivals, the students learn how to market themselves while banking money for college through the organization’s College Scholarship Initiative, which has awarded more than $10,000 in scholarship funding to Delaware students.
Emmett, who has a background in photography, grew up enveloped in education and practical knowledge. Her mother was a nurse, now retired, with a deep passion for nature. “My dad is a PhD chemist who loves cooking and photography. He loved analyzing the world around him through the lens of a camera,” she adds. “Cooking dinner always turned into some big science experiment, because there’s so much chemistry involved in cooking.”
All in and then some when it comes to Four Youth, Emmett admits that starting a nonprofit is not always easy. “We didn’t realize how much it was going to take,” she says. “We just kind of jumped in and got the ball rolling.”
Expanding on the popular idiom, Emmett purposefully developed her programs with cyclical intent. “We like everything to come full circle,” she explains. “Art is directly integrated with our science and engineering programs, just as our cooking is directly integrated with our science. We want students to see the full picture through our integrated learning system.”
A program called “Below the Canopy” exemplifies this rounded-off approach to learning. Taught by a professional horticulturist and arborist, the program included a field trip where students collected items found on woodland grounds, which later were used to create sculptures. Students then photographed their works; they framed the photos and exhibited them at art festivals.
“That’s how our students learn how to talk to the public about their creative decisions, their process and the science they learned behind it,” Emmett continues. “This process helps build confidence as they learn the soft skills — the ability to communicate effectively — that they’ll need as adults. When their artwork sells, 100 percent of the proceeds is applied to our scholarship initiative for their ongoing education. That’s how we come full circle.”
Employing high school students as event photographers or other capacities constitutes another ring in Four Youth’s circle of success. Often hired as event photographers, teaching assistants or small-business marketing specialists, these students blossom under the mentorship of Four Youth’s team and community partners, which have included Bellevue Community Center, The Y Serve to Lead, Girard College, ChristianaCare, Stubbs Early Education Center and Thomas Edison Charter School. Not only do students gain real-life work experience, but they also serve as an inspiration for the next Four Youth generation.
Few after-school programs take kids all the way from kindergarten through 12th grade — and even fewer kids seem inclined to stick with the same program. Not so with Four Youth, a home away from home where they gain the knowledge and skills necessary to leave the nest.
“One of my favorite things about this organization is that we’re a family,” says Emmett, who remains close with her inaugural Four Youth group which she credits with helping shape the organization. “The students who started with me, some as young as third grade, remained with us throughout college as teachers and mentors. As they grew, we grew with them.”
For more information about Four Youth and its programs and opportunities for involvement, call 302-428-9946, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fouryouth.org. Photographers in the Delaware area can support Four Youth and its mission by renting out space in nonprofit’s professional photography studio.