Our Work : Programs


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Empowering youth by bringing learning to life

A proven program for students in grades 6-8

emPowerU is a place and a program,  The emPowerU facility is located in downtown St. Joseph, MO, and is housed in a renovated warehouse once belonging to an electric utility.  The program is also offered at our Think Ahead Works Learning Lab, a renovated storefront in King City, MO.  Both of these locations are technology rich and designed to support collaboration and possibility thinking.

The emPowerU program was created to raise our youth’s awareness to the importance of civic responsibility and to provide them with the opportunity to impact positive change, both individually and collectively, to make a difference in their communities. More than 20,000 students have experienced the impact of our challenge-based immersions since 2007.  To date 62 Jump Starters grants totaling more than $350,000 have been awarded for youth led service projects in our region.

emPowerU offers 2 unique sessions (circuits) that build on each other and can be spread throughout one or multiple years.

  • Circuit 1

Circuit 1 is a student-led, problem-based learning experience. Students are presented with current, complex, real world challenges to solve.  They are then guided through discussions, discovery, and consensus building by our professionally trained facilitators. After agreeing on best solutions, students are then tasked with creating group presentations  which are delivered in front of all students and addressed to the emPowerU Council.  The adult-led Council asks questions and provides feedback after each presentation.

  • Circuit 2

emPowerU transforms into a new region of diverse communities for Circuit 2. Students become citizens of these small and large communities and serve in specific roles (mayors, commissioners, lobbyists, researchers, etc.). During Circuit 2 students are tasked with identifying problems/challenges in their community and then prioritizing these challenges. Once the biggest need is agreed upon, students create a plan of action that is presented at our student-led commissioners hearing. Communities then collaborate and discover ways to work together and improve the region.

    Experiences can be life changing

A glimpse of some of the comments we often hear from students at emPowerU explains why they think their learning experience was valuable. 

“It was really inspiring and showed me that I could be something amazing in life.”

“A strength I discovered about myself today is that I can be a leader!”

“I felt like someone who was going to change the world.”

“Today I learned how to listen instead of always talking.  I considered the opinions of others instead of being just fixed on mine.”

Student Benefits

  • Self-directed learning
  • Consider multiple points of view
  • Gather information and assess credibility
  • Analyze and evaluate policy
  • Improve communication skills

Teachers are often surprised at the difference they see in their students at emPowerU. Here are some of their comments about the program.

“I loved the challenges!  The environment alone increased engagement!”

“emPowerU gives students the opportunity to work on real-world issues and be treated like young adults in a less-restrictive environment than the 4 walls of a school.  It’s so great to come here – they are really invested in their work.”

“Students were able to problem-solve and grow as potential leaders in our school and community.  I love the opportunities that emPowerU is giving my students!”

“The program was well-organized, allowed critical thinking for students, created a unique learning/collaborative experience for students.”

Teacher Benefits

  • See new leaders emerge
  • Authentic skill evaluation
  • Experience constructivist/problem-based learning 
  • Missouri/Kansas Learning Standards observation documentation
  • Provides debriefing opportunity for real life situations

The emPowerU registration fee is $15 per student per circuit. A minimum of 15 students is required for participation in any of the three circuits. If your group is fewer than 15, you may be paired with another group or organization. Please contact us to learn about scholarships that may be available.

Download printable program information

Download Registration Form

Contact us today to learn more and to register.