In the fall of 2012, J'La and Demetris were selected to be Youth Organizers at Teen Empowerment. It was a pivotal moment in their lives. "Teen Empowerment gave me a bunch of confidence," said J'La.
J'La had recently given birth to a baby boy. At TE she found support among her peers and the will to reach her goals. In June she graduated from the School of the Arts. "So many people doubted me after having my son and stuff like that, then like the generational curses and statistics and stuff like that so, actually doing it and getting it done and over with, it's really exciting," she said.
Teen Empowerment's Director of Rochester Programs Doug Ackley says J'La was honest about her struggles and that made her an effective Youth Organizer. "At Teen Empowerment it's about, not only the change of the individual and what kind of transformation they can go through, but what they're able to do with their leadership out in the community because they can change a lot of lives based on what they say and what they do," he said.
Demetris had such an impact as a Youth Organizer, he was selected for a Teen Empowerment Exhibition at Rochester's Joy Gallery. So was J'La. The room is filled with promise. "When you look at every face on the wall, just look in their eyes, it seems like every one of them have a sense of hope," said Demetris.
With TE, Demetris has used his talent for lyrics and performing to inspire other teens according to Ackley. "We have performers that aren't thinking as much about the issues around them and Demetris is able to do that and turn it into a real vehicle for change," he said.
After working for Teen Empowerment in 2011, Arquan was let go as a Youth Organizer in 2012. That too proved to be a pivotal moment in his life. He was re-hired a year later. "Coming back to it a second time I definitely understood that, even moving forward in life, you can't get too relaxed," said Arquan. "Whatever you want, you have to really attack it and go for it, and not ease back on it because somebody else can slip in and take your spot."
Ackley noticed a change in Arquan. "He came back with more of a passion to really do this and make change, and I think it's also helped to re-motivate him to look at his own goals and what he wants to do in his life," said Ackley.
After college, Arquan wants to create a realty and construction business and hire Rochester youth as employees. Demetris wants his degree to lead to personal music and business success, and then pour that back into Rochester. J'La has learned the value of an education. She wants to be a teacher. "This isn't my last graduation," she said. "I plan on graduating with my Ph.D or something like that. I plan on going far."
Demetris has a message for his fellow teens. "Don't just think about today, don't live for today, live for tomorrow as well."
Arquan is confident he can make his dreams come true. "Definitely, I can do anything I put my mind to."
As they journey forward in their lives, Arquan, Demetris and J'La will go back to Teen Empowerment to inspire a new group of Youth Organizers, grateful and poised to make a difference.
For more information about Rochester's Teen Empowerment, click here.
Copyright 2016 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.