DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative Celebrates 25 Years

October 13, 2023

Across the country, thousands of ministry leaders are on a mission to make a transformative difference in the lives of children growing up in poverty. Despite their passion and drive, many lack the resources to stay in ministry for the long term. For 25 years, the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative (DVULI) has been supporting leaders of urban youth with the training and skills needed to make a long-lasting impact in their communities.

Based in Grand Rapids, DVULI is an intensive 15-month youth leadership development program created by the late Richard and Helen DeVos, along with their children. Funded by the DeVos family, DVULI selects approximately 60 urban youth leaders from five different U.S. cities into the training program each year. Participants become members of a close-knit cohort in their city and gather twice a year for a week of intensive training, uplifting speakers, and networking.

“DVULI focuses on sustaining leaders in urban youth ministry while building their capacity to develop effective organizations,” said Doug DeVos. “The model has been greatly successful over the past 25 years, graduating 1,300 leaders across 37 cities nationwide. We can’t wait to see the impact that is yet to come.”

This week, DVULI cohorts from Cleveland, Fresno, New York, Orlando, and San Diego are gathering at the Embassy Suites Downtown Grand Rapids for their national convention. More than 75 participants will spend a week in training based on the five core values necessary to ensure sustained growth as a leader: accountability, balance, empowerment, interdependence, and leverage.

“We realized that a national program alone cannot understand the unique needs of a particular city; however, a local program could benefit from insights gained from broader perspectives,” said Ron Carter, director of training and resources for DVULI. “The initiative is national in scope but anchored in the local community.”

“I had the privilege of going through DVULI early in my career,” said Denise Fase, co-director of Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders (GRIL) and past cohort participant. “The program changed how I saw myself and my purpose, how I see and lead others, and how my work impacts the young people GRIL serves.”

“We all learn together,” said Virginia Ward, a past DVULI cohort participant. “I’m still learning from my fellow urban youth leaders, and they have become the national family that I didn’t have before DVULI.”

At the end of this week’s training, participants will be treated to a special presentation from past DVULI graduates, Will Chatman and Mike Trout of Young Men’s Educational Network (YMEN), a Chicago area program that mentors children and provides spiritual and emotional guidance, career-based and entrepreneurial education, sports opportunities, and recreational activities. They will be sharing the success stories of YMEN and how DVULI has impacted the work the organization does in its local community.


WGVU Radio Interview

Listen to DVULI leaders talk with host Shelley Irwin about the organization’s milestone anniversary!Read More