YWCA Boston

YWCA Boston (YW Boston) strives to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. YWCA Boston works to incrementally reduce systemic racial and gender disparities and improve social cohesion in Boston neighborhoods where health, educational and safety inequities are most significant.

In a city with a growing divide among economic classes and races, YW Boston chooses to focus on the reduction of systemic racial and gender disparities and the improvement of social cohesion in neighborhoods where health, educational, and safety inequities are most significant. YW Boston seeks to accomplish this work by partnering with beneficiaries, direct service providers, leaders, and organizations in the target neighborhoods. Throughout the history of YW Boston, there have been a variety of programs to serve youth, including a girls’ health initiative and dialogue groups between youth and law enforcement officers.

  1. Location

    Boston, MA

  2. Number of Full-Time Staff


  3. Program Name

    Youth Leadership Initiative

  4. Program Type

    Youth Organizing

  5. Youth Served

    Ages 14-18, diverse ethnic, gender, religion

  6. Website


About the Program

The Youth Leadership Initiative (InIt) was selected as YWCA Boston’s target offering for the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Challenge. InIt develops young leaders with nascent leadership skills and supports them as they implement projects that further race and gender equity and social cohesion in their schools and communities. InIt’s goals are to build students’ confidence, their abilities to work across differences, and ultimately design, implement, and engage other teens in community action projects that address social inequities in their school, community group, or neighborhood.


InIt is designed to develop young leaders by providing them with a strong understanding of social justice and strong leadership skills, while supporting them as they implement projects that further race and gender equity and social cohesion in their schools and communities. The program cultivates self-awareness, critical self-reflection, and interpersonal skills. The program is designed to purposefully explore diversity in a respectful manner that:

  1. increases students’ understanding of the social topics covered by the curriculum;
  2. strengthens their personal, interpersonal, and workplace skills; and

  3. teaches them to understand and value diverse viewpoints.


InIt is made up of three important elements:

  1. Immersion Week is a week-long overnight retreat focusing on deepening delegates’ understanding of society and themselves. It is held in July and August on a college campus and is the kickoff event for the 10-month program. During Immersion Week, young people explore key aspects of their personal identities (e.g. race, gender, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, disability status) and begin to recognize how “isms” operate on a systemic level to grant unearned privileges to certain groups of people over others. Because this experience can be emotionally intense, staff employ a variety of strategies to ensure delegates feel safe and willing to participate.

  2. Saturday Program Days take place once a month from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. and offer workshops and community service projects to enhance delegates’ skills and deepen their understanding of how social justice issues affect their communities. Workshops focus on topics such as community learning, leadership development, community service, and personal and workplace skills development. Program days include field trips to a community farm to discuss food security, a law school to discuss criminal justice, and to a hospital to discuss healthcare inequality. During the visits, youth are encouraged to reflect on the systemic issues that impact the community at large and particularly marginalized populations. Oftentimes, Saturday Program Days are hosted or attended by community partners. In this way, youth are exposed to a variety of organizations across the city and to career opportunities within these organizations.

  3. Community Action Projects (CAPs) are developed by the youth over a 10-month period. Delegates work with their school cohorts to develop and implement a community action project to address a school or community issue. This activity is designed to support the youth as they become socially responsible leaders. Youth take the lead in conceptualizing and implementing their CAPs with guidance from an InIt staff member at biweekly meetings. Early meetings are focused on goal setting and laying the groundwork for what they want to accomplish for the year. As the year progresses, the meetings serve more as a time to check in on the plan. Youth work with their school administrators and peers to implement their CAPs, and in doing so, learn to work around the institutional barriers within their sphere of influence.

About the Staff

InIt is staffed by three positions at YW Boston and a team of 12 volunteers (many of whom are InIt alumni). Because of the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the participants, it is imperative for staff and volunteers to demonstrate a collaborative, supportive work style as well as the ability to listen, facilitate groups, and mentor individuals. InIt looks for staff and volunteers with a personal commitment to social equity and who are comfortable sharing personal experiences and perspectives. Staff must have experience leading experiential learning and participate in social equity training. Staff and volunteers participate in 25 hours of training together before they work with the delegates. Training includes team building activities, an overview of program procedures and policies, facilitation training, and an opportunity to engage with the curriculum. Going through the workshop curriculum together allows the staff and volunteers to have and process their own experiences before they’re asked to lead a session for youth.

Staff and volunteers participate in extensive social and emotional learning training. For example, in 2014, one InIt program staff member attended a three-day Adolescent and Trauma Resiliency training for youth workers developed and led by the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and the Boston Public Health Commission. All staff and volunteers participated in a training led by Rape Crisis Center on how to respond to adolescent disclosures of abuse and sexual assault and one by Health Resources in Action on principles of Positive Youth Development.

Tips and Tools from Staff

Case Narrative

To read more about how WY Boston implements social and emotional learning, download their case narrative here.

Learn more about the best practices for social and emotional learning.

Download the guide