Service-learning as been the dominant civic engagement opportunity for the last two decades. Student volunteers may move from a potentially seminal experience such as helping at a women’s shelter and then analyze the root cause. Rarely, though, is there a pathway for these passionate Gen Zers to deepen their involvement and pursue remedies.
- Internships adhere to a one-sided model where the intern gains valuable skills, perhaps plans a conference or writes a report, and then exits after a few months.
- One reason why internships rarely evolve into youth infusion is the organization does not have stated commitment to graduate to a new level of intergenerational teamwork.
Instead of one lone intern, the new model is a cohort of young people embedded in a community-based organization, advocacy group, coalition, foundation, or government agencies. Serious preparation for all involved is essential. Many young people will walk into an adult-run organization full of apprehension and awkwardness when interacting with people typically viewed as authority figures, who either have had the final say or fail to pay attention to their ideas.
Many adults, who frequently do not interact with the very people their organization serves, will revert to roles as parents, teachers or mentors which reinforce the habits and stereotypes that aggravate the generation gap. Adult attitudes are shifting, recognizing that young people have a lot to offer now–not just in the future.
“As a young person, I am very excited about the world, my future and the endless possibilities both offer. I want to make a positive difference. The adults I am drawn to are those who have not completely forgotten their adolescence and its open-mindedness. They believe in me and my abilities and encourage me to attain my goals. Some adults surprise and inspire me.”
Think back to when you were a young adult. Did you feel intimidated or distrustful of those over 30? How would you try to welcome young colleagues—rather than interns–into your organization?