In the Employee Spotlight we recognize a Youth Service, Inc. employee making an impact in the communities we serve. Carla Johnson is the Conference Coordinator for our annual Rise and Dream Philly Teen Conference.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I grew up in a non-traditional home. We were a family comprised of a single-parent and a host of foster children. We redefined “family” to include individuals who shared values, goals, respect and not necessarily DNA. I’d decided that my professional life would include caring for children who were abused, neglected and grew up in similar circumstances. While working for the City of Philadelphia Law Department, I learned about Youth Emergency Service. I accepted a part-time position because it was a great opportunity for me to become more involved in inspiring and protecting children.
Q: How long have you been working as conference coordinator for the annual Teen Conference?
I’ve been the coordinator since 2008.
Q: Why do you think this is an important event to host each year?
Consistency is important for teens, as well as parents. As a mom of three, I sometimes struggled with this key component. I learned that if I promised pizza on Friday nights after a good week of homework and chores, I had to follow through.
The post conference evaluations are clear. Our teens, by and large, love the event! We have teens who attend the event on multiple years because they have the opportunity to laugh, cheer, dance, learn and lead.
We aim to be consistent – every year. In May, our usual conference time, we offer an opportunity to educate, empower and inspire our teens. I want the event to be as much a part of Philly as cheesesteaks, Love Park, soft pretzels and “jawn.”
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges faced by you working on the conference each year?
We have so many moving parts to manage. For example, we learned that a bus full of teens wanted to attend, two days before the event. Conversely, several years ago, we expected a large group that did not show up. Last year, we were hoping for media attention, until a presidential candidate showed up in Philadelphia. It’s the last minute revisions that are the most challenging.
Q: What do you do to overcome these challenges?
We are blessed with a phenomenal team. We don’t fall apart or lose faith. Our goal is to impact Philly’s teens. So, we make quick adjustments and move forward.
Q: What is one of your favorite success stories during your time as conference coordinator?
A 12 year-old child participated in the event a few years ago. He was a part of a ministry from Camden, New Jersey. He had been dealing with the tragic loss of a parent due to gun violence. Our keynote speaker, Boxing Champion, Bernard Hopkins gave an inspiring speech. After leaving the stage, he immediately approached the boy. They shared a moment that was so poignant and powerful.
I later learned that the attendee came out of his shell and, according to his mentor, had a real break-through experience.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working on this annual event?
We have so much fun! Our partnerships with Urban Youth Racing School, Health Promotion Council’s Advocacy Institute, the Mayor’s Office of Youth Engagement and Black Male Engagement, YEAH Philly allow us to collaborate and work together. The most important part is the opportunity to see our teens beam when they enter the venue. Our team forms a cheering squad and greet our teens in a manner that may be new to them.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about this year’s event?
Well, its going to be virtual. We have a producer, a reliable team, talented artists and fully engaged teens. I am excited about the possibility – that we can save lives through our conference; that our leaders will listen and most importantly, the teens of Philly will raise their voices and demand to be heard.