In 1995, Richard DeVos, co-founder of the Amway Corporation, and his wife, Helen, challenged their four children and spouses to work together to develop a philanthropic program based on their shared interests. An intensive discovery process revealed their common passion to be at-risk youth in urban settings.
Once that had been identified, the DeVos family determined that they could make optimal impact not by replicating existing youth programs, but rather by investing in the creation of a leadership development initiative focused on sustaining urban youth workers in ministry while building their capacity to develop effective organizations and to produce leaders. The development process for the initiative included research, interviews and focus groups with local and national ministry leaders and youth workers.
In 1998, the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative was launched in four cities that had been deeply involved in the early stage of curriculum development: Grand Rapids, Phoenix, Orlando, and Boston. A total of thirty-six urban youth ministry leaders from diverse ethnic backgrounds participated.
Since 1998, The DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative has conducted training in over thirty-two major urban centers across the United States, and over 1200 urban youth ministry leaders have completed the program. The Initiative remains committed to its goal of investing in the lives of urban youth workers who demonstrate success in working with youth in communities of high poverty and unemployment, and who are positioned for growth and change in their leadership.