Youth Development League motivates youth to excellence


Some people gain inspiration from their childhood difficulties and overcome their environments, subsequently reaching back to help others with similar backgrounds. Such is the case with Joyce Lester, the executive director of the Youth Development League (YDL), a nonprofit program of the Metro Education and Outreach Services (MEOS) agency, which seeks to cultivate youth by introducing them to their world of possibilities.


YDL students in front of the Como Zoo Conservatory on one of their field trips, with instructor Kwame Collins at far right in the back row; the students are in the front row (l-r) Brandon Flowers, DeCola Saunders, Trenton Funches, Hiram Hollamon, Sherwina Adams and Iyanna Rodgers-Neely, and back row (l-r) Desiree Watson, Araya Smith and LaShay Mcgee.
Photo courtesy of YDL


Joyce says she grew up in the Chicago Housing Authority projects, but the projects didn’t grow up in her. “I’ve lived a blessed life and enjoy motivating youth to excel,” she says. The program provides intensive workshops to increase the youths’ knowledge base and critical thinking skills.

Workshops include speech technique, public speaking, speech writing, ethics, financial management, entrepreneurship, healthy relationships and leadership training. In past years, local, state and national government workshops have been offered.

Each week guest speakers from organizations such as the Minnesota Vikings, local banks, local politicians, journalists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, attorneys and other professionals come in and give presentations. Program participants also enjoy weekly field trips such as horseback riding, tennis, golf, bowling, skating, major league sports, and the theater.

Travel is also a component of the program. Past participants have traveled to Canada, Atlanta, Orlando, and Chicago. For many of the youth, the trips are their first encounter with airline travel.


Students who successfully complete the program travel to a local, national or international destination.


This summer, a former YDL student, Kwame Collins, who participated in the program from age 12 through 15, is one of the instructors for the 2012 session. Kwame teaches speech technique, speech presentation and speech writing classes. The sessions are designed to strengthen the students’ writing skills and ability to communicate effectively.

When Kwame came into the program he, his mom, and two siblings were living in transitional housing in Saint Paul. He says the program drastically changed his outlook on life, because the community where he grew up in Milwaukee, Wis. consisted of high crime rates, drugs and violence, leading him to believe that his future was limited. Kwame is now a senior at Augsburg College majoring in psychology.

The YDL is a Christian program with a strong emphasis on spirituality. Lester underscores that her acceptance of Christ as a teenager was critical to her ability to avoid being consumed by the negative environment she grew up in.

The ethics workshop is taught by Min. Maisha Barrett. In the class, students are taught daily from the Bible about moral principles that help to guide their life decisions. Barrett also teaches the leadership training sessions.

Monique Doty, who is affiliated with the accounting industry, teaches the financial management class. The workshop focuses on the importance of good credit, spending habits, investing and budgeting.

Upon completion of the program, the students participate in a ceremony where they present their speeches to their parents, share their experiences, and receive a certificate of completion. The students who successfully complete the program travel to a local, national or international destination. The students thus learn about people and cultures outside of their immediate communities, enhancing their exposure to the larger world around them.


From a YDL press release. For more information about the Youth Development League, contact Joyce Lester at 651-739-1639 or email her at Metro Education & Outreach Services is located 245 N. Ruth St., Suite 107, St. Paul, MN  55119.