​Frequently Asked Questions about YLI

What is YLI?

The Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) is a multicultural leadership program. The purpose of YLI is to develop a new generation of leaders who reflect the diversity of the community and who are prepared and committed to contribute their talents to building a thriving, inclusive and multicultural Saint Paul. The overall goal of YLI is to foster the desire of young people to contribute to their community and to build the skills and qualities needed to take leadership.

Who can join YLI?

Youth in 9th thru 12th grades living in St. Paul or the east metro area willing to make a one-year commitment. Youth must agree to participate in and attend all program activities. We accept sixty teens each program year, starting in October.

What do teens do in the program?

In YLI, teens develop character by learning about themselves and the qualities needed for leadership; youth learn how to respectfully and effectively work across cultures by learning about their own culture and the cultures of others; youth discover their interests and passions and take pride in giving back by learning how to take action in their communities.
Key program components of the Youth Leadership Initiative include:
  • Learning Retreats: Youth attend three multicultural learning retreats where they explore concepts of leadership, strengthen cross-cultural relationships and participate in experiential learning activities that focus on working effectively with others. Youth also discover their values, aspirations, strengths and styles. Retreat themes include: character, culture, community and leadership.
  • Cultural Sessions: Youth meet in culturally specific cohorts. Aided by a Cultural Coach, youth explore their culture and heritage and its impact on their leadership style and personal development. They explore stereotypes and prejudices, share their experiences as members of these cultural groups, learn about the contributions of their cultural group, and find ways to be a change agent in their cultural community.
  • Action Teams: Youth participate in weekly multicultural teams that focus on providing service to the community. The teams are organized around community issues that the youth wish to address. Each team explores the issue they have selected and develops service projects to address the issue in the community.
  • Creating Success Initiative: Youth discuss the importance of education, set school improvement goals, learn about higher education and are provided with structured support based on individual needs. Monthly workshops are provided to guide youth’s academic success and prepare for postsecondary education.
  • Youth Leaders: Youth leaders are past participants who have demonstrated leadership qualities and are recommended by peers to become mentors for the following program year. The leaders meet weekly to receive advanced training in curriculum development and facilitation. Youth leaders then develop, implement and deliver program curriculum at retreats in partnership with program staff. Youth mentors also assist with program evaluation and provide youth voice in decision-making throughout the year.

What is the cost of the program?

The program is free for participants. YLI seeks funding each year to cover the operating cost of the program. We thank our donors and foundations for their generous financial contributions.

How do I apply?

If you wish to apply, please call PattiJo Verdeja at 651-280-2457, or email pattijo.verdeja@wilder.org.
What are the program dates?
Orientation – Required for youth and a parent/guardian.
Participants attend one orientation in September or October of each year.
Learning Retreats – Camp Heartland, Willow River, MN
  • 1st Retreat: October
  • 2nd Retreat: February
  • 3rd Retreat: May 

Creating Success Initiative – Wilder Center, St. Paul, MN
Homework lab & college prep workshops: Tuesdays from 4:00–6:30 p.m.

  • Sessions begin first Monday in November
Cultural Exploration Sessions – Wilder Center, St. Paul, MN
Tuesdays from 4:006:30 p.m.
  • Sessions begin first Tuesday in November
Action Teams – Wilder Center, St. Paul, MN
Thursdays – 4:00–6:30 p.m.
  • Sessions begin first Thursday in November

Youth will receive one-on-one and small group academic support from program staff and/or volunteer tutor. Youth will also discuss the importance of education, set school improvement goals, learn about higher education, discuss how to prepare for college and are provided with structured support based on individual needs.

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