American youth who participate in both school-based and community-based programs during high school remain more civically engaged than their contemporaries throughout adulthood. However, few studies have examined the developmental processes through which participation in a youth directed program promotes civic responsibility. In this qualitative study, 23 males and 9 females took part in one of five focus groups to talk about their experiences as members of a youth empowerment center in the southwest. The results reveal a three-phased process model of development from program participant to civically engaged youth. Each of the three phases, participation, connection and expansion, is explained using the words and examples provided by the youth. Implications for application and future research are discussed.