J’la Jones from Teen Empowerment comes full circle in Rochester

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ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – J’la Jones helps Rochester teens use their voice for change as a program coordinator for the Eastside branch of the Center for Teen Empowerment in Rochester.

It’s where a small group of Rochester teens are working to promote positive change. They are young paid organizers.

“We let them voice their opinions,” said Jones, who mentors the teens. “We let them decide what they want to do. They choose the task that needs to be set. We literally empower teenagers.

We met Jones in 2012 when Teen Empowerment hired her as a youth organizer. She was only 16 with a little boy at home. At the time, she told News 8, “It’s really exciting to know that I’m going to work here and help the community and make it better for him.”

Two years later, in 2014, Jones did something many thought she couldn’t — graduate from the School of the Arts in Rochester. After that graduation ceremony, Jones said, “So many people doubted me after having my son and stuff like that – doing it and doing it and getting it over with is really exciting.”

Today, Jones is married and her little baby is now 11 years old. She is a proud mother. “He’s getting really big,” she said earlier this month. “He is super smart, very helpful and super protective. He has grown into a very extraordinary young man.

And the teenage mom has now come full circle.

“Being back is great. I love it. I love the energy. Teen empowerment is a family.

Shanterra Mitchum is program director at the Center for Teen Empowerment. “To see her in this role from a teenager with a baby to now married with her own family and helping to support other young people in our community is beyond meaningful,” she said.

Of course, the story does not end there. A new chapter opens. With today’s teenagers struggling to make their voices heard and struggling to do so. Too many people lose hope.

Jones said: “The next chapter doesn’t have to be this way. It depends on the decisions you make here and now at this time.

Once upon a time, Jones took that same advice and opened the door to her future through Teen Empowerment. Now, as her city faces new challenges – once again she hears the doubters.

But again, it’s Jones who sees the way forward.

“I feel like if everyone would give their time and give their heart and their love to these kids and really pour themselves into them and just be that ear and open up and really hear what they have to say, it would make a difference.”

Jones’ personal journey is the only proof you need.

For more information about the Center for Teen Empowerment, visit teenempowerment.org.

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