SPECIAL SECTION: AREA WOMEN LEADERS
by Abby Brill
“If you can see it, you can name it. If you can name it, you can change it.”
Courtney Osterfelt has been serving Prescott youth since 2003, since 2011 focused on The Launch Pad, a youth-driven space providing activities that are culturally relevant to county teens.
Originally from Colorado, Courtney studied at Prescott College, earning first a Bachelors in Education, then a Masters in Social Change and Community Development. While still at PC she started a project to create a health-education retreat for teen girls to help reduce their risk of teen pregnancy. The success and enthusiasm generated by this one-time project led to the creation of the ongoing Women’s Empowerment Breakthrough, which has since become one of the many Launch Pad programs and has had lasting impact on the lives of hundreds of girls. As a health educator at the county’s Community Health Center and at Prescott College, she organized student activities and events and taught gender studies, multicultural education and peer counseling for five years.
It was clear that the need for mentoring, relevant programs and just a safe, fun place for teens to drop in was not limited to girls. When Courtney unexpectedly received a generous inheritance from her grandmother, she took a leap of faith and used it to found The Launch Pad. The program serves all teens and is strictly non-political. Prejudices and cliques are left at the door. She says she loves watching the teens walking from school to The Launch Pad, separately, adhering to their social codes, then seeing them let down their barriers on entering the building, knowing that they are all on equal footing there. This insistence on civility and mutual support carries into every aspect of the program. “People who are being served by an organization should serve on the board,” Courtney says, and half of The Launch Pad’s directors are teens, including the board president.
The Launch Pad offers three central ongoing programs: the Teen Advisory Council, the Academic Mentoring Program, and the Drop In Program. Weekly offerings include adventure-based programs, art activities, community initiatives and life hacks. The Launch Pad also has a tutoring center and homework lab, and teens can engage in the Workforce Development Program, working on the various skills they need to apply for and win jobs.
Teens need space and support to navigate the experiences they encounter on their way to adulthood, including an extremely polarized political environment and increasing racial and homophobic violence. They see daily instances of overt violence through the media that, while disturbing, can also catalyze change. Courtney tells the teens, “If you can see it, you can name it. If you can name it, you can change it.”
They are encouraged to create more compassion. “The Launch Pad pulls them out of all the messaging they are steeped in and emphasizes the importance of just being a good friend. It’s really that simple.”