This article originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, December 2021.

The Empowerment Center (TEC) was founded in 2005 to provide education, training, and resources to underserved kids. As a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, founder Tiffany Baker brought her expertise in strengths coaching to give participants the tools to overcome generational cycles of abuse and poverty.

The organization’s Youth Leadership Academy continues to use the lens of individual strengths to provide youth with social and emotional skills that can help them become leaders in their community. The organization was working with 152 at-risk children in Temecula schools, many of whom Baker said were suicidal when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Forced to shut down in-person programming, the organization scrambled to find ways to continue to help these children, shifting services online and working with the children’s teachers and their principal.

Teresse Lewis, TEC’s Executive Director and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and therapist dove into offering free online therapy, providing social and emotional work for families that were struggling. The organization created free parenting courses. In addition, it offered online mentoring for kids, creating a safe place for kids to connect with one another and to have a place to ask for help when they needed it.

Their work was noticed by the City of Temecula, which asked Baker to join the Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI) Commission. The commission makes recommendations on diversity and inclusion within City services, policies, and programs. As chair of the commission, Baker said that she was able to speak to family dynamics and how to build resilience in both children and their families.

“We were called to be leaders in a time we didn’t think we had the skillset,” Baker said. “We felt we were called to children no matter their race and now we have to stand in courage to make sure representation matters.”

Working with small groups of children one-on-one is at the heart of TEC’s mission, but Baker and Lewis realized their organization can have a broader impact by doing more restorative work with the school district, creating a curriculum to support parents, administrators and teachers. In the last two years, the organization has been able to reach over 7,000 kids, community members, and organizations.

“We are bringing solutions that are effective, realistic, practical and helping families where they are,” Lewis said. “I’m proud to say we’re doing that on a systemic level now.”

Barker said their work is critical to the success and resilience of all youth and families. In partnership with Temecula Valley Unified School District, TEC offered a monthly Family University Series which helped parents with strategies to maintain family bonds, create predictability at home, build personal resilience, and foster connections.

Recently, the organization received a grant from the Black Equity Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The grant will support the organization’s evidence-based work to support families, youth and service providers through trauma-informed practices and solutions.

TEC hopes to continue to grow its impact in Temecula and beyond. Ultimately, the organization hopes to grow its capacity and to have a permanent home with a resilience center that welcomes families. TEC welcomes new partnerships and collaborations with like-minded organizations as well as donations to support its free programming.

“So many at-risk kids come through our doors, but all kids and families need to have their resilience built and have these skills,” Lewis said. “That message is coming across more loudly now. All families need this and we will rise together.”

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