09/20/2013 12:17 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2013

Beautiful Bronx! Young Men Take Action

The Bronx Teen Health Center (BTHC) was founded in 2006 by Sharon Rose Beier, a doctor and pediatrician, with Bronx Youth, bringing together adolescent-friendly health care with youth development, building on the strengths of young people and our community.

Gileana Gonzalez and Luis Mena, former BTHC patients, were the first leaders of the Youth Advisory Board. They helped create and led the Young Men's group and Young Women's group.

After speaking to several young men who faced multiple barriers and had been told they would never amount to anything, we formed a Youth Advisory Board as a place for young people to have a voice and develop programs. The first question we asked was, "What do youth need for their health and well-being?"

They said we need 1) help in school, 2) jobs, 3) respect and 4) beauty. We asked them to tell us about beauty. They said, "When you grow up surrounded by trash, you start to feel like trash yourself." We began to work with the NY Botanical Gardens and Bronx Green-up! to start "Beautiful Bronx!," creating community and school gardens.

"Beautiful Bronx! Young Men Take Action" supports young Black and Latino men to help each other revitalize the Bronx by transforming it and making it blossom and grow. By doing so, they will transform themselves.

We will teach young men how to access available skills, tools and resources necessary for success. Our program consists of: 1) community service -- creating beautiful, safe spaces, 2) workshops that teach evidence-based curricula, Botvin's Life Skills Training and the ECMC Foundation's "Realizing the College Dream" training that targets job skills and education and 3) health care that gives young people access to the Bronx Teen Health Center for comprehensive reproductive health/health care services. We will use social media to connect and document all aspects of this initiative.

One example of how this works: a young man who is a high school drop-out, living with friends after being released from prison, came to the Bronx Teen Health Center for STD testing. He was invited to attend the Young Men's Group, where, although initially quiet and skeptical, he started participating in the discussions about respect, confidence, school and masculinity.

He invited his friend to join, and they participated in trips to Fordham University, the Bronx Zoo, and NY Botanical Gardens, which, even though they had grown up in the Bronx, they had never visited. They started gardening and saw how hard work could transform their community.

He participated in our Life and Job Skills program, got the support he needed to enroll in a GED program, and got an "awesome" job at the Bronx Zoo.

Approximately 100 young Black and Latino men have participated in our Young Men's Group, creating/maintaining several community gardens with the NY Botanical Gardens, Bronx Green-Up. They are continuing their education, getting jobs and feel responsible for, and proud of, their community.

Our goal is to increase the number of young Black and Latino men that are participating, as well as the number of community leaders, and institutions/partners. We will evaluate both the youth and community participants.

We will track the number of young men that are participating in the program, projects/events, and their successes: i.e., how many went back to school, got a GED, graduated from high school, enrolled in college, graduated from college or obtained a job?

We will engage more community partners and connect with high-risk youth in schools, alternative programs, and out on the street, to develop a model, replicable program. We are based in the Bronx Teen Health Center, with a focus on strengthening the whole person, mind, body, and spirit by conducting workshops, providing comprehensive health care and promoting community involvement and commitment.

Our goal is to develop a strong network of Bronx young people, community leaders, and community partners, all working together to support the health and well-being of our young men. As the young men work to revitalize and beautify the Bronx, they will rebuild themselves with all the skills, support and opportunities they need to have bright and successful futures.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, Ashoka Changemakers, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative in recognition of the "My Voice, Our City" competition, which aims to empower black and Latino young men ages 16-24. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information about "My Voice, Our City", click here; about Ashoka Changemakers, click here; and about the Young Men's Initiative, click here.