5 leadership programs empowering Pittsburgh kids to step up and take charge

Photo: The 5A Elite Youth Empowerment teaches kids to draw upon logic, imagination, intuition and reasoning to explore possibilities of what change could be.

Pittsburgh’s future is bright. Organizations throughout the city are helping mold today’s kids into tomorrow’s leaders. From tots to teens, programs cater to every age level … because it’s never too early to give kids the keys to success.

5A Elite Youth Empowerment

The 5A Elite Youth Empowerment – otherwise known as the Academy for the Advancement of Academics, Athletics and Awareness – strengthens entire families by empowering kids, especially those who have experienced trauma.

Through the agency’s Youth Fellows for Social Change program, high school students are designing initiatives to benefit their community. The teens attend seven months of workshops, training sessions and real-world experiences that combine design thinking, political education, civic engagement, trauma-informed holistic wellness, and transformational leadership development. Each participant receives a $150 monthly stipend, a free tablet and other relevant technology.

“I decided to do this program because we are able to act on issues that we want to change in the community,” says Layla Holland, a student from Nazareth Prep. “We are also able to talk about what peace means to us. I have been there for about six weeks now, and I am still learning about what peace means to me. We are raising money for different programs through the 5A program to help spread our message.”

Putting her experience into action, Alyza Foster, a veteran of the GirlGov program, spoke about her committee’s work at the Rally for Police Accountability in Harrisburg last month.

The Women and Girls Foundation

When females thrive, so does the community. That is the driving force behind The Women and Girls Foundation (WGF), a non-profit that seeks equal rights for local ladies, provides opportunities for their advancement and engages men as champions for gender equity.

During WGF’s GirlGov Summer Leadership Academy, a two-week political retreat, girls intern in an elected official’s office, network with a United States Senate staffer, experience a college-level curriculum and spearhead a social action campaign. Created in partnership with the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh, the free program will be held July 8-19 on Pitt’s campus.

Luminari’s I Want to be an Ambassador! program includes a Washington DC visit.


Luminari is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that broadens the minds of youngsters, inspires innovation and promotes community engagement. One of the ways it accomplishes its mission is through its I Want to be an Ambassador! camp, where kids in grades 8 through 12 learn the art of diplomacy. The seven-day summer getaway is held at The Ellis School in Shadyside and various spots around Washington, D.C.

The experience enriches students aspiring to work in foreign service by teaching them about different cultures (including the food!), introducing them to government officials, business leaders and diplomats, and engaging them in discussions about current events.

By putting themselves into other peoples’ shoes, participants can view the world through a lens of mutual respect and dignified communication.

The Urban League’s programs for kids include the Black Female Leadership Development Institute.

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh

Since 1918, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh has been connecting people in need to community resources and giving them the tools to be self-reliant. The organization’s Youth Leadership Development Department prepares kids for college and other post-secondary programs, helps them navigate different career pathways and promotes healthy life choices.

Urban League’s youth-based programs include the Black Male Leadership Development Institute, the Black Female Leadership Development Institute and Tech U, which focuses on academic improvement and job skills through technology.

The Youth Advisory Council gives kids a platform to voice matters and concerns important to them.

Pittsburgh Cares

Pittsburgh Cares isn’t just a name; it’s a way of life. The nonprofit affiliate of the HandsOn Network works to advance a culture of volunteerism and widespread civic engagement throughout the region. Youth Engaged in Service (YES), allows kids between the ages of 5 and 21 to take the reins to create positive change in their neighborhoods.

Students can sit on the Youth Advisory Council, take part in Customized Service Experiences, attend Pittsburgh Cares Service Camps and participate in a series of interactive leadership workshops. Through conversations with local officials and their peers, they can turn words into actions and tackle social issues that are important to them.