Melissa Sawyer

Co-Founder/Executive Director

Melissa is a Founder and the Executive Director of the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) and has over 15 years experience working with at-risk youth. Melissa received her B.A. from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and then joined Teach for America (TFA) where she spent two years teaching 9th and 10th grade students in special education classes at Booker T. Washington High School in New Orleans.

After completing TFA, Melissa received her Masters from the Harvard Graduate School of Education – where she focused on the research areas of Urban Education and At-Risk Adolescents. Melissa returned to New Orleans after Harvard and spent the next three years working with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), helping to reform the juvenile justice system. Through her work at JJPL, Melissa traveled throughout the state of Louisiana, advocating on behalf of incarcerated children and the need to develop and fund appropriate and quality community-based programs to meet the unique needs of these youth. Melissa and two of her JJPL colleagues, who knew first-hand the lack of services and opportunities available to disconnected New Orleans youth, started YEP in 2004 to address the specific needs of this population.


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70 percent of YEP’s staff members are born and raised in New Orleans and the vast majority grew up in the same neighborhoods that our youth live in. Our staff members’ personal understanding of the challenges that our young people face make them uniquely qualified to provide support to YEP youth.