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YES made the difference

As a sixth-grade student at Bruce-Guadalupe Community School in Milwaukee, Daniel-Eli Cevilla changed his life.

That’s when the Youth Empowered to Succeed (YES) program came to school, and Cevilla lost 15 pounds, studied harder, grew so strong he could do 30 push-ups instead of three at a sitting and could run 90 sprints instead of 30.

Before YES, Cevilla was shy and unsure of himself. After participating in YES, he ran for seventh-grade class president and won.

Cevilla’s story is one example of the power of YES, which is included in a massive demonstration project led by principal investigators Dr. Larry Pan and Dr. Paula Papanek in the College of Health Sciences. The work was part of 17 national Youth Empowerment Programs (YEP) that examined whether front loading of skills and assets helps at-risk minority youth make better life choices. The YEP program, which included YES, was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

Marquette and the United Community Center, which oversees Bruce-Guadalupe Community School, received renewal of the YES program with a new five-year $1.5 million project. They will continue their work with minority youth who face disproportionately high health risks, a problem found across the country. The young students team up with mentors from Marquette who tutor and teach them life skills.

“The UCC Youth Empowered to Succeed participants demonstrated a growth in their positive developmental assets compared to their peers,” says Ricardo Diaz, UCC executive director. “This means that the comprehensive interventions developed through the program helped them be more focused students, more engaged in their community and more resilient in their ability to resist negative influences.”

One of the more significant outcomes of the Marquette and UCC partnership was in the area of health and wellness. YES tested a trial lunch program at Bruce-Guadalupe Community School. For six weeks, lunch was reduced from a pre-trial average of 922 calories to an average of 522 calories. Participating students lost approximately 3.5 pounds in six weeks.

“I changed my diet,” Cevilla says, by trading out chips, soda and candy for healthier choices. But Cevilla saves his highest praise for his mentor, Tim Balke, YES prevention specialist.

“He helped me get through it,” says Cevilla, “encouraged me to try joining clubs and sports, and my self-esteem skyrocketed.”

YEP was developed as a way for higher education institutions to work with individual schools, school systems and community organizations to address social determinants of health and promote healthy lifestyles in minority adolescents. Pan and Papanek were asked to summarize the data across the YEP programs nationally, including YES. JMM


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