Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Practice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Theresa Coble, PhD


Carl Hoagland, EdD

Phyllis Balcerzak, PhD

Keith Miller, PhD


The purpose of this co-authored, qualitative, action research study was to examine how to empower youth to become active participants in their communities. Citizen engagement in community and public life is vital to a healthy democracy and young people have a unique place in community citizenry, but are often dismissed or excluded from decision-making. The research team developed a model, the Youth Participatory Empowerment Model (YPEM), to guide youth through a process of identifying and engaging a community heritage or social justice need in their community. The team assembled a guidebook of activities to engage groups in difficult self, group, and community work. To test the model, each of the six members of the research team implemented YPEM to engage youth in six locations throughout the United States. The members of each group represent a diverse sampling of the country and include tribal, undocumented, rural, suburban, and urban youth from low income or underserved populations. Researchers collected interview and observation data to identify themes and strategies that support community youth leadership. The model seeks to cultivate youth voice, youth engagement, and youth empowerment and to assist group mentors with this process. The results of the six groups highlight the importance of youth leadership, trust and safety, partnerships, and multidimensional mentorship. These observations led to the development of an updated version of YPEM, which includes the four main observations and strategies that proved successful in the field.