For New Mexico’s young people, nurturing their potential is a must. The saying is oft-repeated, but young people are, indeed, our future. At Youth Development Inc., we impact their lives and, in many cases, expand their vision of tomorrow.

Our young people are a testament to the infinite creative and giving capacity of youths. They continually teach and remind us about the importance of caring, quality support and resources and the delight of discovery.

YDI seeks through its Elev8 community school initiative to help improve student learning, strengthen families and develop and engage youths and communities. Guiding this work is the certainty that every child matters and a commitment to Elev8 Kids, Elev8 Lives.

Located at Albuquerque’s Grant and Wilson Middle Schools and West Mesa High School, YDI-Elev8 brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, both from within YDI and the community school movement. We aim to support families and students, particularly those struggling at the margins.

Elev8’s key components since 2007 have been school-based health care, extended learning, family engagement and family support services. While these are at the forefront of its work, Elev8 continues to think anew about how best to impact students who are having difficulties or on unequal footing.

Recognizing that students facing personal issues like divorce need a consistent, caring adult in their lives, Elev8 has launched an Early Warning Indicators project at its middle school sites that includes case management components.

Roughly 30 students at Grant and Wilson are participating in the project based on their academic achievement, absences or behavior. The goal is to further their learning by bolstering their health and safety, development, behavior and relationships.

At the helm are each school’s principals, Health & Wellness Teams and Elev8 staff.

Students are offered health screenings and provided with extended learning opportunities, while checking in daily in the Family Resource Center on their classroom activities. As needed, their families receive a variety of supports, including home visits and telephone check-ins on their students’ progress and family needs.

West Mesa High School is the community school initiative that the Unidos (United) Project and YDI-Elev8 launched in 2013, with the University of New Mexico as its backbone. It has solidified a culture of community sharing.

The spirit of the project’s signature community resource fairs is reflected throughout the school, including in its clothing bank and ABC Community School Partnership College and Career Diners.

Target Corporation is working collaboratively with Elev8 to provide students with new clothing in West Mesa’s clothing bank. The monthly ABC College & Career Diner, held in conjunction with Elev8, APS Food and Nutrition Services, West Mesa ROTC and STEM departments, among others, seeks to better prepare West Mesa students for productive experiences – careers or higher education – post-high school.

Surrounding this work is a commitment to lifting students’ voices regarding their health, wellness, learning and environment, fulfilled through multiple partners.

Wilson’s Student Health Advisory Council, a statewide leader known for annual SHAC-a-thons, has come to embody youth leadership. Facilitated in 2015-16 by Albuquerque’s SouthWest Organizing Project and FoodCorps, the advisory council provides youths with a space to talk and learn about the concerns facing their community.

The success of Elev8’s work to create youth advocates is on display when students travel to Santa Fe during legislative sessions to share their perspectives with policymakers and leaders.

When asked what Elev8 hopes to see in its students, the response is “happy and healthy kids.” We believe that when youths are supported and encouraged in vibrant school communities they can – and will – envision a full tomorrow.