The idea for the initiative was inspired by the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative, a 15 month intensive program where a co-hort of 12 local leaders participated. It was also inspired by Timoteo Flag Football, a Christian athletics and youth mentoring program. Those programs brought up the training needs of the local church and community to evangelize and disciple our youth. Most local urban churches are small in membership with many classified as “store front” churches. They lack the necessary resources to effectively meet the demands and grapple with the issues that confront our young people. Most of these churches cannot afford a full-time Pastor, let alone a youth worker. Therefore, most of the burden falls on volunteers who are eager to serve but are often overworked, overwhelmed, and untrained. The message, methods of evangelism, and training which does make it to the street level is usually irrelevant to the most at-risk, especially to the fastest growing population in Philadelphia; Latino youth. It is apparent that most of our local churches need help in developing quality and effective youth ministries in our barrios (neighborhoods).
After conducting a feasibility study over a six month period (October 2014 through March 2015), convening a meeting with 43 Pastors and Youth Ministers, potential funders and program partners, it was decided to move forward with developing the Barrio Youth Initiative. During that planning phase we explored several opportunities to house the initiative including Timoteo, Teen Haven, Street Psalms, Esperanza Health Center, Common Grace and the Philadelphia Leadership Foundation. Esperanza Inc. stepped forward to house the initiative and in addition made a financial commitment to support a portion of the salary of the Executive Director, Rev. Ruben Ortiz. The initiative is now launching as a subsidiary of Esperanza and a partner of Esperanza College.
Esperanza exists to serve the “least of these” (Matt. 25:40), and strengthen Hispanic communities. They carry out this mission through a variety of programs and services that are all designed to empower people through education, economic development, and advocacy. With a strong agenda to improve the opportunities for our young people, Esperanza has served over 1,700 at-risk youth in mentoring programs, 140 through their subsidiary Artistas y Músicos Latino Americanos (AMLA), and proudly exceeds a 94% graduation rate and a 98% college acceptance rate at Esperanza Academy, their nationally recognized high school.
The Barrio Youth Initiative is a collaborative leadership development organization that inspires vision, provides educational opportunities at the grassroots and degree level and develops resources for those that work with Latino youth and beyond. The initiative is a subsidiary of Esperanza and a partner of Esperanza College. It strengthens the missional capacity of the body of Christ to reach, disciple and give voice to young people to become agents of transformation in our urban communities.
"Philadelphia will be the leading city to live, learn, and practice Youth Ministry in America"