LEWISTON – The Lewiston Youth Empowerment Program, a collaborative effort of the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College and Empower Lewiston, has just completed another successful semester.

It is the program portion of a service-learning class, “Youth, Community and Higher Education,” offered at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College and is taught by Assistant Professor Michelle Vazquez Jacobus.

The program helps to empower youth by providing resiliency-building activities that support self-esteem, alternatives to negative peer influences and foster the youths’ higher education aspirations.

Service-learning, or public service education, integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning, encourage civic engagement and strengthen communities.

Service-learning allows students to participate in an organized service activity that meets identified real-world issues and social needs. Service-learning includes reflection on the activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline and an enhanced relationship with the community and its needs.

The class is made possible through a grant from Empower Lewiston, a nonprofit organization, which connects downtown Lewiston community members to programs, initiatives and city planning efforts with the goal of empowering downtown residents. The program is also supported by the donations of time, materials and facilities provided by a number of community organizations and individuals.

When asked about the future, Vazquez Jacobus said, “This program faces the challenge of not having a consistent funding source to draw from. Among the possibilities being explored are collaboration with other institutions of higher education, as well as community organizations and agencies to develop a consistent, sustainable collaboration.”

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