07/11/2011 05:48 pm ET | Updated Mar 31, 2015

At-Risk Teens Arrive in Washington to Ensure Congress Doesn't Cut Youth Programs

By Corryne Deliberto, Sr. Policy Advisor for World Vision

As lawmakers on Capitol Hill remain divided over federal budget talks, I'm welcoming today a group of 130 at-risk teens from across the country as they begin a five-day summit to advocate for an end to youth violence in their communities. The students represent World Vision's Youth Empowerment Program (YEP), a national effort that trains local youth to speak out on issues that affect their lives.

As part of the fifth-annual Youth Empowerment Summit, the students will converge on Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet with their individual representatives, share personal stories relevant to their communities and advocate for their policy recommendations. YEP students are focusing on youth violence, education and other issues that are on the Congressional chopping block.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports murder and other violent crimes rose last year by nearly 14 percent. According to a new study* conducted for World Vision, nearly 1 in 2 adults cite a "lack of adult supervision" as the number one factor causing gang violence among youth. If Congress cuts funding for after-school programs and other prevention strategies, we will likely see youth gang violence continue to rise.

On a positive note, more than 60 percent of young people now say that social media is allowing more youth to participate in social movements they may otherwise not be aware of. As part of their own social movement, the YEP participants will be tweeting this week about what they're learning and about their meetings with representatives.

These student advocates represent nearly a dozen locations around the U.S., including Chicago, New York, Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles, Twin Cities and Appalachia. Many teens have witnessed or experienced youth violence in their cities firsthand. Through YEP, each student completes a 20-week, in-depth youth leadership and mentoring training series. The training allows teens to talk with their peers about problems in their communities, advocate for solutions and present them to Congress at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

One student, Lucina Kayee from the Twin Cities, grew up in West Africa and witnessed her brother as he was taken away to become a child soldier. Once in America, she spent time in foster homes and experienced further violence in her neighborhoods. Now, thanks in part to YEP, she's planning to attend college.

It is stories like Lucina's that motivate me to keep fighting for youth violence prevention legislation. We can't stop until all of our nation's children are able to grow up in safe communities.

To stay updated on the YEP Summit in DC and hear the student's experiences and progress, please follow their events on Facebook or Twitter and voice your support!

* The 20011 Youth Violence survey was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of World Vision, Inc. All data collection was done by telephone within the United States from May 13 - 16, 2011 among 1,030 adults 18 years of age or older