LEVEL UP Youth Program – Charlotte, NC

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Project at a Glance

  • Issue Area Community-police relations, Education and youth, Social services
  • Engagement Approaches Engaging traditionally marginalized groups, Neighborhood events/ activities, Partnering with residents, Trust building, Youth Engagement
Project Description

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LEVEL UP Youth Program


LEVEL UP was started in 2017 as a result of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force’s Leading on Opportunity Report, which recommended a variety of services to address teen crime, health and academic success. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee and the Community Building Initiative provided a space for employees and community members to engage and share their points of view about race and police community relations and have open dialogue about matters that impact them and the community.


  • 100% of students improve their self-confidence based on six key indicators: 
    • Positive Identity, Self-Management, Social Skills, Contribution, Social Capital and Academic Self Efficacy. 
  • 98% of students who enter the Y Achievers program will graduate from high school. 
  • 90% of students who start the school year with a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) or lower will improve their GPA by year end.  
  • 90% of students will enroll in a post-secondary commitment during their senior year of high school (may include military, two-year or four-year college or vocational program). 

Project Summary

The LEVEL UP program hosts activities at branch YMCA sites in low-income areas on weekend evenings and during the summer at which volunteers from several youth nonprofits provide mentoring services, classes and recreational activities. Additional opportunities include interactions with police officers, tutoring, and becoming part of longer-term mentoring and educational programs.

Engagement Strategies:

  • The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council (CMYC), is the official, youth-driven, and interconnected student advisory council for City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. 
    • Through the CMYC, high school students meet regularly to advise community leaders, represent and serve as a collective voice for young people, learn how to solve civic challenges, and join a diverse network of young civic leaders. 
    • All local high school students are eligible to participate. CMYC welcomes students from public, charter, independent, religious, and home schools and youth organizations. 
  • Peer Perspectives (for city employees) and Can We Talk? dialogues (with the larger community) were forums offered in various locations with the goal of building trust and understanding in the community. Over 1,374 people participated in the dialogues over a six-month period. 
    • Peer Perspectives challenged city employees to break out of their comfort zone. During the sessions, individual opinions, fears, hopefulness and confusion were expressed, all indicative of the complex issues that our community is facing. Being able to explore the intersections of race, age, gender and personal experiences in a professional setting was a truly unique experience. 
  •  The Can We Talk? dialogues offered community members from all walks of life an opportunity to have transparent dialogue with city leaders and police officers. The dialogues also allowed individuals to make personal commitments being part of the solutions that will help make Charlotte the best city for all. 
  •  The city also recognized a unique opportunity to utilize our customer service phone ambassadors (part of Charlotte’s 311 call center) , the Charlotte Youth Council and resident leaders from our Civic Leadership Academy to share information about the Community Letter and ask Charlotteans about what mattered most to them and their families when it came to safety trust and accountability, affordable housing and jobs. They also asked for their ideas to make Charlotte a better place for all people.


In 2017, the program’s first year, LEVEL UP (then called Summer of Opportunity), enlisted more than 330 volunteers, three CMPD officers each in-session night, staff from nine partnering youth-serving organizations and YMCA youth development staff to interact with and guide teens.  

 A survey was given to 627 participants at the outset. Results helped to establish participants’ social-emotional baseline and inform programming to address the greatest deficiencies. Program offerings included workshops on themes such as the rights and responsibilities of citizens, healthy eating, college and career readiness, positive interactions with the police and social justice.  

 The program served 1,003 youth ages 13-17. Of the 81 youth who completed the post-program survey, 84% made gains in the positive youth development score using the Algorhythm Youth Development Impact Learning System to measure short-term gains focused on moving the needle toward long-term outcomes. 

Based on the successful pilot, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte and its partners have expanded to a year-round youth enrichment program. During the school year, teens will have access to safe and positive experiences aimed at connecting them to role models and resources that develop interpersonal skills, promote achievement and improve access. In the 12-month program, youth will also have access to Y Achievers (the YMCA’s college and career readiness program) in partnership with eight high schools which includes in-school engagement in the Career and Technical Education Department of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. In addition to Y Achievers, LEVEL UP will feature teen nights, after school enrichment activities, and complementary YMCA memberships.  

 In 2018, LEVEL UP will: 

  • Expand from 14 nights of programming in the summer to 22 nights of year-round programming; 
  • Expand from three branch sites to four branch sites; 
  • Serve 1,500 teens; 
  • Partner with 15 organizations; and  
  • Enlist 400 volunteers as on-site teen navigators. 

Community service projects are being planned for 2018. Counselor-led workshops will include themes such as healthy eating, personal style, social media, building your own brand, social justice and performance art. Participants and CMPD officers will compete in a basketball tournament, and a college and career fair will be held. 

Timeline of Project: Since 2017
Initiator: City of Charlotte and YMCA of Greater Charlotte
Additional Resources:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force Report
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council
Charlotte, NC – 2018 AAC Winner: Presentation
Local Contact

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