History of the Youth Institute

The YMCA of Rapid City Youth Institute was started in June of 2012, and was the  first Youth Institute outside of California, where the program was originally started. There are now Youth Institute sites in many states across the US and even some in Canada and South Africa. To read more about how the Youth Institute program was started check out this Link. Our first Youth Institute class of 2012 had just 10 teens in it. Last summer, our 7th year, we had 38. YI has grown and developed a lot in those 7 years, and we now have over 100 graduates of the summer program.


Our program is broken down into two main parts; the summer program which runs for 8-weeks in June and July, and the school year program that runs from September-May.


Summer Program:

Summer Youth Institute runs for 8 weeks Monday-Friday from 9:00-4:00. It is for Teens going into 7th-10th grade (older students may still be accepted on a case by case basis). The first week is always a camping trip. The purpose behind the camping trip is to get kids out of their element, to break down barriers and create deep friendships. Teens often refer to the Youth Institute as their 2nd “Family” after the camping trip. The remaining 7 weeks are full of the teens learning how to use programs like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, & Premiere. They also learn how to write a script, film, and edit a short film, do Photography, and writing/designing a magazine. We also focus a lot on personal growth, social skills, and professionalism.


During the summer program there are different levels for teens to go through. The first year they are a part of the new class. We take applications for up to 25 teens each year. Applications are accepted on a first come, first serve basis. If they decide to come back for a 2nd year and are accepted, they are considered an Alumni. Alumni focus on building up their skill set, as well as basic leadership skills. The third year program is split into two different directions. Alumni Specialist – building off of what they learned as an alumni, they get to choose a “specialty” area that they want to focus on for the summer. YI Staff meets with these teens to create a plan for them based on what they want to accomplish. The other option is a Mentor: Mentors are assisting with the new class -- a way for older teens to give back what they have learned and help the next class be successful while developing their leadership skills. Lastly, we are able to hire 2-3 teens who are at least 16-years-old to be staff for the summer. These are teens that have showed a great commitment to YI, have the skill set needed, and have completed at least 2 years of the program.


School Year Program:

Throughout the school year the Youth Institute is an after-school program for teens that have completed the summer program. YI is open every day after-school from 3:30-6:15. During the school year there are lots of activities and projects that build off of what the teens learned during the summer. The main “curriculum” during the school year is what we call YI Badges. There are many topics to choose from, like: Photography, Illustrator, Video, Leadership, and Business Badges. The badges serve as a way for the teens to increase their skill set and as a way for us to measure their progress at YI. Teens can also apply for Perspective jobs based on the badges they have earned.


Summer 2012...

...Summer 2016

Youth Institute Staff

Kyle ZvejnieksYMCA of Rapid CityYouth Institute Site CoordinatorOn my fourth birthday, my mom caught me on home video trying to charmingly persuade her (with a very sly grin) that I was actually six years old and therefore should be allowed to use the brand new video camera (a camcorder as big as a briefcase!). Jump to middle school and I’m the family videographer.  Jump to high school and I’m teaching myself video editing, special effects, and making my own goofy teen movies. Jump to life after college and I’m getting the chance to make a few promo-videos for the organizations I work for.  But if only I had been in Youth Institute….


...You see, creative media didn’t just give me a path to express my own self, but it subtly nurtured in me life skills like goal setting, long-term planning, perseverance, adapting, trying again, patience, practice, attention in the details -- all the things required to make it through a long, messy process like filming to reach a rich and rewarding result.  Yet, I was largely on my own. I had little others to share this process with me, to join me in it. Little to encourage me, to push me, to support me, to connect with me.


In this way, Youth Institute is more than just a place to develop your creative media skills -- it’s a place to discover life skills and life strengths through long, messy processes.  A place to find adults and other teens to encourage your growth. A place to connect with others who share your interests. A community to support you and become new friends.


With an undergraduate and graduate degree in youth development, I’ve been working with middle and high schoolers for nearly a decade, and yet I can say that I’ve never been a part of something quite as unique as Youth Institute. Everyday I'm excited to be here, to work with the YMCA in investing in our teens’ lives, to support them and their futures…...and of course, to make some awesome media art.

Rebecca DeWittYMCA of Rapid CityYouth Institute Alumni DirectorMy name is Rebecca, I’ve been working at the YMCA of Rapid City Youth Institute for almost  6-years now. I really enjoy working with teens, teaching them media skills and pouring into their lives. The past four summers, I have been the Alumni Director, working with the second year students, and some of the third year students. I really enjoy working with the Alumni because they have the basic skills down and are now ready to learn some of the more fun, advanced skills. While working at YI, I have developed my own lesson plans and curriculum for the summer program, as well as helped to write and develop a badge-earning curriculum that we use during the school year at YI. I try to push teens to do the best they can in their creative field.


As a teen, I wish there would have been a program like the Youth Institute for me to go to.  I was very excited about making short films and taking pictures to hang on my walls when I was that age, and a program like this would have really helped me develop my skills. However, the Youth Institute is not just about teens learning multi-media skills, it is also about learning leadership, making friends, and becoming a better person. I love working here, and making an impact on all the teens that come to be a part of the Youth Institute family.


A few years ago, Perspective, the Youth Institute social enterprise was created. I am very excited at what it’s become, and hope we can continue to develop it even further. It is a fantastic way to teach teens about having a job and running a business, and it helps them begin to see their creative talents as something they could do professionally one day.

Ruth StevensonYMCA of Rapid CityYouth Institute StaffRuth's bio coming soon!

Hi! My name is Sarah, but everyone here calls me either Kara or Mr. President. I am second year staff here at YI. I did New Class and Alumni before I became Staff in 2018. So this is my fourth year in YI. One of the infinite reasons I love YI is all of the amazing things you learn while you're here. And it's not just the computer and photography stuff you learn, it's the life skills and lessons too. You learn so much about interacting with other people, working in a team, and making lots of new friends. You learn the skill of cooperation and how to listen to other's ideas. It helped me to relate to other kids who were different from me. Kids who came from different backgrounds than me and who had different thought processes from me.


YI brought me out of a shell that I didn't know I had. I always knew I was an extrovert, but I was always pretty awkward about how I interacted with people with my extroverted-ness. YI gave me the opportunity to learn how to interact with people without overwhelming them. I learned how to become a leader and make everyone feel welcome and wanted. YI has been absolutely life changing. The staff here are incredible and so very accepting. No matter what background you come from or how you've been hurt in the past, they're always here to comfort you and make you feel better no matter what. The kids who come here are non-judgmental and are also incredibly accepting. The first year I came here, I wasn't entirely sure what YI was or what it would entail. I didn't even know what all I would learn. But then I went on the camping trip, and I gained a family. As soon as I realized how close we would all become, I never wanted to leave. To me, all the media stuff I learned was just gravy on top of the relationships I built.


When I became staff, I again wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I knew that I would be in a position of authority, and that I would teach the new class. But I didn't know just how much the New Class would teach me. They made me feel so loved and wanted. They even brought me food!! Like, they really found the way to my heart...


Overall, YI is the best thing that's ever happened to me. When I work, I don't feel like it's a job. I have too much fun for it to feel like a job! YI has given me a second home and a second, much larger family. The things we learn here are pretty great, but the people are even better.



Teen Stories

"Youth Institute has

changed my life..."

"The Youth Institute has impacted me because it taught me the importance of teamwork, friendship, and family."


-Alli B.

Youth Instittue ALumni Specialist

 "YI is basically an everyday thing for me. I found many friends, and I learned how to speak out in front of people and I got pulled out of my comfort zone. I come to YI because I have made so many friends here and I love to make graphic design on the computer. Because of the Youth Institute, I learned about what I want to do in my life."

-Ruth S.

Youth Institute Teen Staff

From the Parents!

We absolutely love this program. Our daughter has learned so much that she can use throughout her life and future career. She has made friends through the program and loves her YI family. She has grown and matured so much through the last few years at YI. It is a place where she feels safe and happy and she knows that if she has a problem she can go to her YI family and talk about it and not be judged. This is an amazing program that all teens should try!

-Youth  Institute Parent

The first time we heard about Y I, we felt like we heard, "this program is made specifically your son".  Our son has enjoyed all aspects of Y I, including the camping, learning and friendships he has made. It gave him something to do and something to look forward to all summer. And most importantly, it helped him feel a great sense of pride in himself and a great sense of accomplishment for the work that he did. Rebecca and Kyle are terrific leaders and mentors for the teens.

-Youth  Institute Parent

In The News


March 2019 - 1st place for in Youth Category at Dahl Mountain Photo Contest - Ruth S.


August 2018 - Graphic Design by Corbin H. - top 3 at National Fine Arts


May 2018 - Design Jam, Ruth S. 3rd place


April 2018 - "What If?" 2017 summer Alumni film chosen to screen at Black Hills Film Festival


March 2018 - T-shirt Design & Graphic Design by Corbin H. - Qualified for National Fine Arts Competition


March 2017 - Photography Digital by Vicki K. & T-Shirt Design by Nation Theis - Qualified for National Fine Arts Competition


May 2016 - "Homeless" & "Today's Life" 2015 summer Alumni films chosen to screen at Black Hills Film Festival


October 2016 - Graphic Design by Ruth S. - Chosen for Lifeways "Choose Art" Competition


March 2015 - T-shirt Design by Corbin - Qualified for National Fine Arts Competition


August 2013 - Received "Best Picture" 1st place New Class Film at the National Youth Institute Film Festival


April  2013 - Received 2nd place "Honorable Mention"  for TIE Film Festival