Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Practice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Theresa Coble


Phyllis Balcerzak

Keith Miller

Carl Hoagland


Citizen engagement in community and public life is vital to a healthy democracy. Young people have a unique place in community citizenry; they are often not yet able to vote or serve in powerful roles, but they have much at stake for the future. Youth can be powerful allies to a participatory culture. The purpose of this qualitative, action research study was to arm youth and youth mentors with a Youth Participatory Empowerment Model (YPEM) to identify and address a community heritage or social justice need. This study used interviews and observations with individuals and focus groups to observe and record the process of empowerment of youth with YPEM based on attributes defined in the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Astin, 1996, HERI, 1996). The researcher coded emerging themes to determine what interventions were most effective and whether youth or youth mentors experienced a perceptual change about youth voice, youth engagement, or youth empowerment through the implementation of YPEM. YPEM helped youth and adult mentors cultivate youth voices by providing time and space for them to address a community heritage or social justice need in their community. To maximize progress, four factors are key. First, strong youth leaders -- who are either elected, appointed, or emerge naturally through the process are needed. Second, safe space and trust building are central to a group’s ability to engage. Third, the research showed that when community partnerships are strong, the empowerment process is maximized. Finally, adult mentors who are present but remain in the background can support youth voice and facilitate engagement. YPEM led engaged youth to experience empowerment through community action. Prior to the implementation of YPEM strategies, the case study group had not been effective at influencing change from the bottom up. YPEM changed this scenario. YPEM gave youth an opportunity to identify a need in their community, and plan, organize, and implement actions to make the change happen.