Youth Institute: Where Teens Disconnect in order to Make Real Connections

The Youth Institute is a year-round digital media program with a summer intensive focus that recruits a new class and returning alumni. Program participants engage in project-based learning that puts them in production teams to create a magazine and short films that reflect themes and issues that are relevant to the teens participating. At the Youth Institute, youth to learn how to use software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Final Cut Pro and Garage Band. For a majority of the youth participating in the program, this is the first time they are exposed to these programs, so the emphasis is on creating a learning environment that is collaborative, meaningful and expands horizons. This learning is also coupled with college knowledge and ways to pursue education after high school through college tours and panels with staff and volunteers that can share their higher education experiences first-hand with the program participants.

Youth Institute Retreat

However, before all this amazing tech-based and academic learning takes place, youth have to participate in a wilderness retreat. This means that before they have a summer full of tech-heavy learning, youth participants have to completely unplug (no tech, no phones) and build with their peers that they will be spending all Summer with. This is a key component of the program – an outdoor camp experience creates opportunities for growth and development in a span of a week that is hard to replicate elsewhere. At a typical Y camp, the impactful camp experience ends and many times youth that participate will see each other the following camp year. With the Youth Institute, the wilderness retreat component serves as the foundation for the rest of the Summer. This is what allows the program to be successful, it allows our youth to build on the momentum established at the wilderness retreat – where our youth have had the opportunity to build and share space, to connect and challenge the comfort zones in order for both personal and professional growth to happen. After the wilderness retreat, the youth shift gears and fully immersive themselves into the wide array of tech-based software that supports their project-based learning.


About Their Experiences


“Leadership was a skill I enhanced over the summer. It may not have been something within my comfort zone, but it was necessary if I wanted to continue to move forward.”

-Ania, Youth Institute New Class 2022

“I like how not only do we get to learn, but we get to be really hands-on. Having production groups and having to work with each other in filming projects really does give me a good point of view of what I’m learning.”

-Mica, Youth Institute New Class 2022

"Before joining this program I wouldn’t be in a lot of collaborative work so it was hard for me to participate in group projects and anything group related, but being here has shown how to collaborate and voice my opinions, and create great things when we all put in the energy to want to create something great."

-Jazzel, Youth Institute Alumni 2021


These Y’s are close to culminating their program where they will publish a magazine where all the content is produced by youth and a final film, where they get to showcase the skills they’ve been able to develop over the Summer. Each Y will host a film festival for youth to invite their friends and family and enjoy the content that they have produced. After the film festival, the Youth Institute operates as an after-school.

The Youth Institute is currently offered at our Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA and Torrance-South Bay YMCA branches and is open to teens ages 13-17 years old who reside in these service areas. For more information on the LA Y Youth Institute, contact

Produced by

Omar Torres

Omar TorresDirector of Community Development