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Youth Leadership Initiative

YLI participant working and smiling
Developing a new generation of strong, effective leaders

Wilder's Youth Leadership Initiative is a community leadership program for high school students to strengthen self-awareness, develop cross-cultural leadership skills, and to put skills learned into action in a multicultural and global community.


About the Youth Leadership Initiative

Program Overview

The Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) is a cohort model of learning. Young people apply and are selected to be in a learning cohort that meets consistently over a period of time. In YLI, learning happens through active engagement, listening and doing, reflection, a mixture of small and large group activities, storytelling and peer mentoring. The structure of YLI is youth centered. In addition to youth participants determining the focus of cultural exploration sessions and community issues to be addressed, a team of youth mentors are selected to return and be peer leaders in the program. The roles of adults are to support, encourage, share knowledge and power, and create access and opportunity. Youth and adults work together as colleagues and learn from one another. 

Program Length

 9 months (October – May)  

Program Format

 Weekly after-school sessions, weekend retreats and graduation

Program Activities That Help Youth Build Leadership Skills

Participant Requirements

YLI is grounded in the belief that all young people have the potential to benefit our community with their skills, talents and unique perspectives. We do not screen only for those youth who are “in trouble” or those who are “above average.”  As a result, we bring together a truly diverse cohort of youth.  They are diverse in their interests, ethnic backgrounds, family structures, country of birth, “crowd” at school, grade point average and so much more.  These youth spend a year together building solid trusting relationships. For many, it changes their life. Participants must:

  • Be in grades 9-12
  • Live in Saint Paul or the East Metro area
  • Reflect diversity of the community
  • Commit to attending program sessions for one school year
Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment Logo and Minnesota State Arts Board logo

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant to the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a special legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

It was a really big transformation. I improved my speaking skills and critical thinking skills.
Because of YLI, I can be more myself.

Eh Tha Blay Soe, YLI Alumna & Youth Mentor
The Youth Leadership Initiative helps youth discover their leadership abilities.
A group activity with Wilder's Youth Leadership Initiative

Apply to Youth Leadership Initiative

Get involved in Youth Leadership Initiative by applying as a participant or volunteer.


Youth, parents, educators, and community members looking for more information about the Youth Leadership Initiative program, join us at our upcoming open houses at the Wilder Center (451 Lexington Parkway N., Saint Paul, MN 55104):

  • YLI Fall Open House: Thursday, September 12 | 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.


Now accepting applications for the 2019-2020 school year!

  • Deadline: September 15, 2019. Program runs October 2019 - May 2020.
  • Before starting the application, please have all personal information for yourself and your guardian(s) and someone available to fill out your letter of reference ready. You will not be able to save and revisit it later.
  • Questions? Contact Coulette Columbus-Powers at or call 651-280-2366.


Interested in volunteering? We're always looking for volunteers to serve as mentors, coaches, drivers and more - see if there's an opportunity to work with youth.

Meet the Youth Leadership Initiative Team

Conor Burk

AmeriCorps Promise Fellow, Youth Leadership Initiative

Coulette Columbus-Powers

Administrative Specialist

Nell Goepel

Program Manager, Youth Leadership Initiative

Tené Morgan

Program Associate, Youth Leadership Initiative

Nou Yang

Senior Director, Community Leadership Programs

Stories, Research & Impact

Adewale (Philip) Adenodi volunteers for Wilder’s Youth Leadership Initiative

Volunteer Uses History and Cultural Experience to Coach Youth Change Makers

Youth are the foundation for change. That’s one reason Adewale (Philip) Adenodi volunteers for Wilder’s Youth Leadership Initiative, a multicultural program that encourages high school students to think about how they want to change the ...More about this story »

Partner with Youth Leadership Initiative Institute

The YLI Institute, rooted in our youth leadership program's best practices, can partner with you and your organization to make sure young people have opportunities to lead and contribute to their communities. We offer customized trainings and workshops, consultation and technical support, and convening that fosters learning and inspires action. Email for more information.

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