BOWIE, Md. (DC News Now) — Several children across Prince George’s County are learning social and leadership skills that they can apply to their lives through a new program hosted by the Psi Epsilon Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

“It helps them to be creative, helps them to bring out some of these soft skills that they can gain by learning how to communicate, really how to build teamwork, and be able to present themselves and be able to help other youth in the future generations,” said chapter president Benita Swindell.

The Youth Leadership Institute is part of the sorority’s Empower Our Families initiative. Students range from ages 11 to 13 and throughout the six-month program, they’ll learn how to create agendas, run meetings, plan and execute activities.

On Saturday, teenagers attended their second meeting at the South Bowie Library Branch. Their objective for this weekend’s session was entitled “Believing in Yourself.”

The developmental program allows young people to lead activities for each session.

“We let them make decisions and we’re just want them to be able to put all the candidates to this so that we can see that they can use these skills as they become future leaders of our communities to come,” said Swindell.

Twelve-year-old Masara Magassaouba led the program this weekend. Participants created T-shirts that showcased who they are and what they love.

“It pushed me out of my comfort zone, and it can help me a lot. I will be maybe talking more in front of people to help me lose my fear,” said Magassaouba. “I put characteristics about me like ‘funny.’ I put ‘determine’ for basketball. And I put also ‘smart’ and ‘creative’ so yeah I’ve created this one.”

Joi Hollis is a member of the sorority. She ensured her son was enrolled in the program.

“He was thrilled he could tell me everything he did. He could tell me some students he connected with. He could tell me what he learned. He talked about it so much so that my daughter can’t wait ’til she’s old enough to participate, as well,” said Hollis.

“I want him to leave with the skills that he’s gained. And remember, I want him to apply them in school. I want them to apply when he’s in his athletic programs. And I want him to be competent enough to be able to support others in gaining the same skills,” she continued.

This program comes at a time when Prince George’s County saw an increase in crime amongst young people. In a statement from County Executive Angela Alsbrook’s office, a spokesperson said they’re continuing to focus on combating crime among juveniles.

“What we know is that we ended the year with more juvenile arrests for carjacking than adults, and we remain deeply concerned about the disproportionate youth involvement in these incidents,” said Gina Ford, Communications Director for the Office of the County Executive.

Hollis said programs like this are one way to help young people and to fight back against the violence.

“It’s an opportunity for members of the community to rally around our youth. We have them involved in programs and power positive programs. I think it’s going to be a benefit. It has to be parents that are invested and willing to give them time. It has to be schools not just during the school hours, but coming into the community on the weekends and after school. It truly does take a village and so we must be there,” she said.

Many kids like 11-year-old Cameron Coleman already are seeing an impact.

“I’m basically focused on like teamwork and leadership and how I should be approach different situations. This monthly [meeting] will kind of help me and other students to be better leaders in the upcoming school year especially with me going into middle school next year. So it really helps me I guess fit into my school,” he said.

Parents like Hollis are hoping all the children take away a new perspective on life.

“I believe we’re gonna get some communication skills for the students. It’s also an important skill to develop leadership. And they’re starting at a pivotal age, not just developmentally but prior to the middle school years. So friendship and a number of other skills that this program will be able to offer for them,” she said.

The Youth Leadership Institute will continue through June, and organizers said they plan to reopen applications in summer 2023.