Getting iEmpowered: Youth learn life, leadership skills


Clad in yellow shirts, sisters (standing l-r) Tamika McElveen, Ashley Mitchell and Yolanda Brickhouse help students (l-r) Saniyah Griffin, Camora Fleming and Chayla Williams work on affirmation boards during the first-ever iEmpower Youth Leadership Conference at Museum of the Albemarle on Monday. The three sisters organized the conference for youth in grades 5-10 that focused on topics that included team-building, personal goal-setting and financial literacy.


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Thanks to three sisters, about 65 area youngsters got to learn this week about the importance of team-building, setting goals and treating others with respect.

The youth in grades 5-10 participated in the first-ever iEmpower Youth Leadership Conference, a week-long event at Museum of The Albemarle.

The conference was planned and put on by three sisters — Ashley Mitchell, Yolanda Brickhouse and Tamika McElveen — who have incorporated iEmpower as a nonprofit. Mitchell is a law student at N.C. Central University, Brickhouse is an assistant principal at a school in Greenville and McElveen is a doctoral student in psychology at N.C. State University.

The sisters had the idea for the summer camp about a year ago.

McElveen said education is very much a family value in their family. Other than their family, another important influence she and her sisters had growing up was their church, Lamb’s Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Newland. McElveen explained that their extended family lives on Lamb’s Grove Road and attends the church.

“It has always been a tight-knit family,” she said.

The family helped raise money for the conference, which wrapped up on Friday. The nonprofit also got a community grant from the city of Elizabeth City and funding from PNC Bank. In addition, personnel from PNC Bank helped with a financial literacy workshop that was part of the conference.

Throughout the week there were sessions on goals, education, respect, financial literacy and other topics.

On Wednesday, District Court Judge Meader Harris spoke about identifying skills and finding a way to put those skills to use.

Thursday was “Know Your Options” Day, with the youth learning about options such as military service and colleges. Representatives from a number of colleges came for a college fair.

Friday morning, the youth listened to a panel of community leaders who talked about their own goals and how they have been able to accomplish them. The panelists included Pasquotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten, criminal defense attorney Johnnie L. Finch Jr., Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Parks and Recreation Director Dexter Harris, pastor Ronnie Riddick, Officer Dexter Green of the Elizabeth City Police Department, and Angie Wills of River City YouthBuild.

Wills said key words in her line of work are “respect” and “love.”

Finch spoke about the challenge of balancing work and family life.

Also on Friday, youth participated in community service projects at a nursing home, Museum of The Albemarle and Food Bank of the Albemarle.

Youth who participated said they enjoyed the week.

“I would like them to do it again,” said Iyanna Ferebee, 14, a rising freshman at Pasquotank County High School. “They need to do it the whole summer. It was fun.”

Tyselle Spencer, 14, also put in a plug for continuing the conference through the start of the school year next month.

“I would like them to do it the whole summer,” he said.

Mikylah Johnson, 13, a student at Elizabeth City Middle School, said the conference emphasized doing your best.

“I learned to be the best I can be, and try your best at anything,” Johnson said.

Johnson hopes to become a pediatrician or nurse.

Ferebee has her eye on becoming a cosmetologist but she’s also interested in attending N.C. State University.

“The college fair was the best,” Ferebee said, referring to the college event held Thursday.

Ferebee also said she might want to own her own business one day.

Spencer and 13-year-old Hunter Majavinos are athletics-minded and have goals of playing professional sports — Spencer in the NBA and Majavinos in the NFL.

Both have what they call “plan B,” though, with Spencer considering a career in law and Majavinos looking toward mechanical engineering.

They all said the conference was a good way to make new friends.

Spencer also said it was a way to get out of the house, which his grandmother had told him is important.

“She said I needed to get out of the house for a little bit because I played (video) games too much,” Spencer said.

Spencer said he enjoyed the conference, learning a lot about decision-making and how to think about his future.