ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — J’la Jones is helping Rochester teenagers use their voices for change as the Program Coordinator for the Eastside branch of the Center for Teen Empowerment in Rochester.
This is where a small group of Rochester teenagers is working to promote positive change. They are paid Youth Organizers.
“We let them voice their opinions,” said Jones, who serves as a mentor for the teens. “We let them decide what it is that they want to do. They choose the task that needs to be set. We literally empower teens.”
We met Jones in 2012 when Teen Empowerment hired her as a Youth Organizer. She was just 16 with a baby boy at home. At the time she told News 8, “It’s really exciting to know I’m going to be working here and helping out with the community and making it better for him.”
Two years later in 2014, Jones did something many felt she couldn’t — graduate from the School of the Arts in Rochester. After that graduation ceremony, Jones said, “So many people doubted me after having my son and stuff like that — actually doing it and getting it done and over with is really exciting.”
Today, Jones is married and her little baby is now 11. She is one proud mother. “He’s getting very big,” she said earlier this month. “He’s super-smart, very helpful, and super-protective. He’s turned into a very extraordinary young man.”
And the teenage mom has now come full circle.
“Being back is great. I love it. I love the energy. Teen Empowerment is family.”
Shanterra Mitchum is the Program Director at the Center for Teen Empowerment. “Seeing her in this role from where she was as a teen with a baby to now being married with her own family and helping to support the other youth within our community is beyond meaningful,” she said.
Of course, the story doesn’t end here. A new chapter is unfolding. With today’s teens struggling to be heard and struggling to make it. Too many give up hope.
Jones said, “The next chapter doesn’t have to be that way. It depends on the decisions that you make here and now at the moment.”
Once upon a time, it was Jones who took that same advice and opened the door to her future through Teen Empowerment. Now, as her City faces new challenges — once again, she hears the doubters.
But once again, it’s Jones who sees the path forward.
“I feel like if everyone would volunteer their time and give their heart and their love to these kids and really just pour into them and just be that ear and open up and really hear what they have to say it will make a difference.”
Jones’ personal journey is all the proof you need.
For more information about the Center for Teen Empowerment visit teenempowerment.org.