Using Creativity to Empower

Charlie Murphy, musician and youth mentor, died on August 6, 2016, aged 63

“As we do this work, in various parts of the world, I see a common question that connects all the youth – at its essence it is ‘How do I live a life that makes sense?’”
— Charlie Murphy


Charlie Murphy’s life began making sense after experiencing a transformative summer camp as an adolescent. Although he didn’t remember how he discovered Camp Claggett, led by a group of adults involved in the human potential movement, the experience set Charlie on a path that would ultimately impact hundreds of thousands of youth all over the globe.

Facilitating Change

The summer experience turned him on to the power of groups and the creative processes that can build communities. He began studying sociology at Loyola University in Baltimore. Charlie spent his summers working as a camp counselor and studied group facilitation at the Center for mid-Atlantic Trainers; he became their youngest facilitator.

After college, Charlie worked for a time in youth mental health services. Disillusioned with being asked to help young people adapt to a world in turmoil rather than empower them to improve it, he decided to make change through his other passion: music.

Living Creatively

Touring the country as a folk singer, Charlie sang openly about gay rights and feminism. He appeared on the landmark 1979 album “Walls to Roses” featuring both gay and straight men who supported the struggle against sexism.

In the late 80s Charlie teamed up with cellist Jami Sieber to form Rumors of the Big Wave. His AIDS anthem, “I Choose Life”, landed the band a spot as featured artists on a Barbara Walters special commemorating the 20th anniversary of the AIDS crisis.

Playing with notable artists like Ziggy Marley, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, and Midnight Oil, Rumors of the Big Wave toured nationally and internationally and produced several award-winning albums. “Burning Times,” one of Charlie’s best-known songs, became an anthem of the women’s movement; the band performed it at the LGBT March on Washington in 1993. Irish folk rocker Christy Moore later covered the song on his 2005 album of the same name, and it ultimately climbed to #3 on the Irish pop charts.

Converging Streams

Throughout his music career, Charlie never lost his desire to empower youth. Eventually he decided to combine these passions, bringing the arts and creative expression into experiential education, facilitation, and youth work.

In 1996, Charlie met Peggy Taylor, a journalist who would become his creative partner for the rest of his life. Together they ran their first camp, calling it Power of Hope. Their method of integrating the arts into youth development, which would they would eventually call the Creative Community Model™, quickly caught fire and began to spark a transformation in youth work. In 2005, Charlie was awarded an Ashoka Fellowship in recognition of his lifelong achievements as a change maker and for his groundbreaking work in the youth development field.

In 2006, Charlie and his husband Eric Mulholland, a theater artist, began co-leading youth programs and conducting practitioner trainings in Uganda, South Africa, Italy, and the UK. To further grow the international work, in 2009 Charlie teamed with Peggy and UK-based entrepreneur Ian Watson to found PYE Global: Partners for Youth Empowerment. Focusing on providing Creative Community Model training to youth-serving organizations, together they developed an international network of PYE partners and facilitators. With 30 partners in 15 countries, PYE has empowered more than one million youth to date.

A Lasting Impact

Charlie’s true impact with both community building and personal development can perhaps be most clearly seen in the words of the trainers and facilitators he has mentored. Here are just two examples of many:

“Charlie had a way of gathering people together with natural ease and grace.”
“Charlie Murphy came into my life at exactly the right moment, to help me re-find my heart’s wellbeing through self-expression and service to young people.”

Charlie’s legacy is one of using creativity to transform groups into communities, helping people make just a bit more sense out of their lives.

Creative Community Tip: Simply Listen

A moment of listening at Athens Training

A moment of listening at an Athens Training (Photo credit: Themis Gkion –

Giving advice is so much fun! It makes us feel so good—smart, helpful, and insightful. But consider the drawbacks. When we pile on advice, to a young person we’re working with or a family member or friend in need, we might be depriving them of their ability to look within and find their own answers. On the other side of the coin, when we endlessly seek advice, we can find ourselves flailing around in the swirl of opinions. Whether you work with young people or just want to be a better friend, this practice from the world of life coaching can set you on a new track.

Take ten minutes to practice deep listening with one another. Each person speaks about something they care about for five minutes with no interruption. Their partner simply listens without saying a word—no questions, no comments—only listening. Then you switch places, and the speaker becomes the listener.

“This is so hard,” reported a participant in one of our trainings. “I wanted to ask questions so I really understood. But, surprise, surprise, I realized my questions would have taken her in a completely different direction in the conversation. I would have actually hijacked her train of thought.” For some people, it’s hard to even know what to say once they have someone truly listening, but they get the hang of it quite quickly.

“In just five minutes I was able to work out a problem that had been niggling at me all week,” reported another participant. “Once I realized I wouldn’t be interrupted, I relaxed and my thoughts started to flow.” Through practicing the 10-minute listening activity, you’ll likely become far more aware of the power of “simply listen.” In the process, you’ll become a more attuned facilitator and more supportive friend.

In the News: The Power of Creative Expression

“Youth Actors Chronicle a Struggle to Heal in ‘The Sandy Monologues'”

From 'The Sandy Monologues' (Falconworks Artists Group / Facebook)

From ‘The Sandy Monologues’ (Falconworks Artists Group / Facebook)

We loved this NPR story. The arts helped youth, and an entire diverse community, heal and unite in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. They used theater as a tool for reckoning with the harsh inequity of disaster response. Creative expression also built bridges between previously disconnected neighbors. Click here to listen.

Our arts-rich Creative Community Model uses creative expression to promote similar healing in traumatized populations. See stories of PYE’s model at work with refugee youth in Greece to First Nations communities in BC Canada.

On the Ground in Greece: A PYE Facilitator’s Personal Account

 by PYE Facilitator Ed Wade-Martins 

Ed Wade-Martin (right) with an ELIX facilitator and participant in PYE's practitioner training in Athens, July 2016 (Photo credit: Themis Gkion -

Ed Wade-Martins (right) with a participant in PYE practitioner training with ELIX in Athens, July 2016 (Photo credit: Themis Gkion,

ELIX praise for Ed and GaniBeing a part of our collaboration with ELIX on developing projects working with refugee children this summer had a huge impact on me. It’s strange to be back home under the blandness of grey English skies knowing that the Greek summer school is now well underway. The children are picked up from their camps and brought to a lovely little primary school not far away. They gather in a circle and sing together, play games and get to know what it feels like to be in a new kind of learning community. Each day they have classes and workshops learning Greek and English; they explore the creative realms of art, music and theatre and play sports in the playground.

It was enormously profound to see the children’s excitement and joy to be coming to school. Seeing the tentative gratitude of their mothers and fathers sitting on a bench in the playground watching their children play was almost heart breaking. Hearing the children’s stories of what they had been through I knew could be almost too much to bare. These people have lost everything including family and friends and now are homeless in a foreign land. Perhaps they’ll stay. They so want their children to go to school to learn so they can create a better world for themselves.

The project in Athens took place on many levels. We first met the fantastic team from ELIX, a charity that has organized volunteers from all over Europe to run positive projects for the last 30 years. They were so inspiring and they were also inspired by what we had to offer. It was a deep meeting of souls and we were excited by what was possible through collaborating.

We began by leading a 2-day Creative Facilitation training for the newly enrolled facilitators and teachers for the summer school. They soaked up the whole process, excited to be learning new techniques. They also met with their own creative edges exploring this journey in relation to themselves and their work. Afterwards they commented on how they felt like such a strong team and couldn’t believe they had only known each other for just a few days.

Together with the core team from ELIX we then designed the structures and a daily flow for the upcoming summer school. We set up teams to teach classes together and dreamt up workshops for them to deliver. We created goals and agreements for the creative communities they would be supporting and the team began to feel ready and prepared to begin the school.

That first morning was chaos. Meeting the children and families at the refugee camps and the process of registering the children hinted at the chaos and hardships that their community was dealing with everyday. We worked with translators in English, Greek, Farsi and Arabic as we gathered the children who themselves had travelled from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia to reach safety. The screams of joy when they finally arrived at school after walking through the heat that first morning made the whole initial process worthwhile. They dived onto the tables of art materials to create colorful name badges and greeted our team of eager helpers with smiles. We knew that something fantastic was beginning.

There were all sorts of challenges during the first two days, but the team stayed positive and flexible, and was able to hold a safe container to overcome the initial problems. We supported the staff in debriefing the initial phase and left knowing that those kids are in good hands and that they will have the most fantastic summer held in a loving learning environment.

At this time, this work is the healing that is needed in our communities. Crossing boundaries of language, culture and religion, children were being allowed to be children once again. These people are innocent victims of someone else’s war and their children seek the love and embrace that we hope for our own children. We cannot ever underestimate the power and importance of this work to heal the wounds that we carry inside.


Building Community at the Heart of the Refugee Crisis

Gani Naylor with refugee youth at ELIX camp

PYE Facilitator Gani Naylor with refugee children and volunteers, at the pilot youth camp with ELIX in Athens, July 2016 (Photo credit: Eleni Gazi, President of ELIX)

This month in Athens, PYE worked with refugee communities for the first time. With partner ELIX, devoted to active promotion of voluntary service and civic engagement in Greece and beyond, PYE led a special practitioner training (see gallery below) followed by a pilot youth camp for refugee children, six to 12 years of age. The training prepared a passionate team of ELIX facilitators and volunteers who are now leading a summer-long series of youth camps, full of creative expression, arts empowerment activities, and precious opportunities for play.

Isabel Ferreira, an ELIX volunteer from Portugal says of the youth camps, which are taking place in an Athens school, “Five hours takes all your energy and transforms it into a fulfilled heart. This school serves the exact purpose of giving these children a free environment to be creative, explore, make friends, and learn.”

According to UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) data from July 2016, there have been almost 160,000 refugee arrivals in Greece so far this year and 38% of them are children. Isabel says, “I see miracles every single day here. Knowing that so many of the refugees are children, it increases even more my sense of urgency towards these people. The opportunity cost of having these refugees stuck here is too high to be human.”

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One Love Youth Camp Returns to Jamaica!

Jamaican Youth Come Together to Celebrate Bob’s Vision of Peace & Love

One Love Youth Camp drumming sessionThis week, over 50 young people from across Kingston and St Ann will come together at the One Love Youth Camp to ignite their creative skills and promote Bob Marley’s vision of peace, love and social equality. The camp takes place in Bob’s home parish of St Ann, and is the result of a sweet partnership between the Bob Marley Foundation, Partners for Youth Empowerment (PYE) and ice cream makers Ben & Jerry’s.

The One Love Youth Camp returns for its third installment, to give young people of Jamaica the chance to stir up their own take on Bob Marley’s most iconic songs, and learn how to use music, dance and arts to respond challenges in their lives and break down barriers. The camp is facilitated by 25 local teachers and facilitators, who have been through an intensive Creative Facilitation training process that gives them the skills and resources to use the arts to help young people to reach their full potential.

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Creative Community Tip: Lead with Success

Positive note can start workshop on right footWhether you are opening a program or need to address challenging issues with a group, start on a positive note. This builds a field of good feeling that gives participants the courage to stretch themselves or embark on dealing with difficult issues.

Here are a few ways to build a yes atmosphere when you’re opening a new group… Continue reading

Empathy Shines in First Italy Workshop

IMG_7425With partner Elisa Sednaoui Foundation (ESF), PYE recently took the Creative Community Model to Italy for the first time! After a Creative Facilitation training for adult staff, we helped run an incredible ESF Creative Learning Workshop for 140 diverse youth.

Workshop facilitators, including PYE Lead Facilitator Silvia Giovannoni Webster and freelance dance artist Julia Pond, were amazed by the deep level of sharing and increased emotional awareness shown by the young people. Julia observed that youth seem to have limited opportunities to talk about their inner life, despite strong families ties. Continue reading

IndigenEYEZ: Healing Trauma with Joy and Connection


A moment of connection at an IndigenEYEZ training

“IndigenEYEZ is medicine for relationships,” says Program Director Kelly Terbasket. IndigenEYEZ is also a PYE partner, and one of the most powerful applications of our Creative Community Model that we’ve seen.

After more than 20 years managing community projects, Kelly co-founded IndigenEYEZ to heal First Nations communities by inspiring an intergenerational legacy of well-being among Aboriginal people in BC, Canada and elsewhere. Kelly has Syilx and European roots, and lives in her family’s ancestral home in the south Okanagan Valley.

Kelly explains what drives her: “I feel and have lived the results of colonization and residential schools. I experience the fragmentation of communities, families, and nations on a daily basis.” Continue reading

Building New Futures Among Ancient Pyramids

Creative Facilitation Workshop in Luxor, Egypt

Creative Facilitation Training in Luxor, Egypt (Photo: ESF)

Amid political and economic upheaval in Egypt, the Elisa Sednaoui Foundation (ESF), in partnership with PYE, is making a big difference for young people in Luxor.

Though still a world-renowned travel destination rich in antiquities, Luxor’s tourism dollars have dropped sharply and sent unemployment soaring. Says Kasia Skuratowicz, the ESF’s Senior Education Director: “Local communities are deeply isolated. Spaces for freedom of expression and creative learning are extremely limited. There is a crucial need for programs that support the development of life skills such as communication, empathy, project development, analytical thinking and self confidence, especially in an engaging, fun way.”

ESF responds to this need with creative learning programs that foster leadership and change making through playful cultural exchange and life skill development. “We encourage youth to think creatively about their own needs and those of their communities. And then, step by step, we work on translating needs into action through youth and community projects,” says Kasia. Continue reading

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