Cross-Border Partners Look to the Future: Integrating a Whole-Person Model from Brazil in New Orleans

Cross-Border Partners Look to the Future: Integrating a Whole-Person Model from Brazil in New Orleans

For nearly two years, Rede Cidadã (The Citizens Network) in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) in New Orleans, Louisiana have engaged in a dynamic partnership through the International Youth Foundation’s (Re)Connecting Youth initiative. Soon, two Rede trainers will head to New Orleans to prepare YEP staff to deliver elements of Rede’s holistic, movement-based approach to preparing underserved youth to pursue productive, satisfying futures. 

“Too often in the U.S., we think we have all the answers and we’re doing it better than anyone else,” said YEP Executive Director and CEO Melissa Sawyer in reflecting on results of the exchange so far. “We know we’re doing really great work, our results speak to that, but there is something that we’re missing out on. A lot of that is the approach to working with the whole person, working on self-value, on supporting one another, and building a true sense of community.” 

The Importance of Whole Person Approaches

Hear Melissa Sawyer share her thoughts on her team’s experience in Brazil.  

YEP’s embrace of Rede’s methodology resulted from a deliberative process facilitated by IYF. Through cross-border learning experiences, the two organizations shared insights into common obstacles facing youth in their respective countries, their program models, and how to best adapt elements of Rede’s healing-centered approach. 

Too often in the U.S., we think we have all the answers and we’re doing it better than anyone else.

Melissa Sawyer, Executive Director & CEO, Youth Empowerment Project

Critical to the exchange was generating buy-in from YEP staff and youth beneficiaries. Following a recent trip to São Paulo to experience Rede’s work first-hand, YEP Senior Youth Advocate Catrina Trumble spoke to the value of learning new skills like meditation and breathwork. “When they come in, so many young people are uptight,” she shared. “Now, I have them sit and breathe, take deep breaths, and after that talk about what’s going on.” For YEP Works Director Brice White, the exchange offered exposure to new tools for helping youth address “internal issues they’re struggling with and traumas they’re dealing with.” 

“A Life-Changing Experience:” Reflections from New Orleans

Watch Catrina and other YEP staff share their reflections on the learning exchange in Brazil.

When they come in, so many young people are uptight. Now, I have them sit and breathe, take deep breaths, and after that talk about what’s going on.

Catrina Trumble, Senior Youth Advocate, Youth Empowerment Project

Since returning from Brazil, the self-awareness, empathy, and positivity embodied by Rede’s model have seeped into day-to-day conversations at YEP. “I am able to take a more empathetic approach,” said Jevon Le Blanc, an exchange participant, discussing how the trip transformed his work at YEP. 

I’ve Never Experienced a Training Like This

Watch Jevon describe the benefits of Rede’s holistic employability training model. 

I am able to take a more empathetic approach.

Jevon Le Blanc, Exchange Participant, Youth Empowerment Project 

Through the upcoming training series facilitated by Rede, young people and staff at YEP will have the opportunity to further integrate these learnings into their program offerings and organizational culture. The training will include a deep-dive into the theory of biocentric education—along with instruction, reflection, and a practicum—with the goal of piloting a 15-hour biocentric education-based curriculum with youth program participants in late January.