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Boost Your Org’s Talent Pool

Two film clips will challenge your thinking about the impact of intergenerational teamwork!

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez was in his mid-teens when his speech in Washington, DC to protest construction of the Keystone Pipeline XL captivated my attention. Now age 21, he has built his own leadership pipeline, as youth director of Earth Guardians and acclaimed hip hop artist. It is no surprise this multi-talented activist is one of the youth plaintiffs in a landmark climate lawsuit.

This pending case claims the federal government’s actions “violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”

This is a trailer for Youth v Gov, a documentary on Netflix.

In the new documentary Youth v Gov on Netflix, you will meet 20 other plaintiffs who joined this case back in 2018. Each individual has gained a repertoire of talents, for example, the youngest plaintiff Levi, now 14, appeared on 60 Minutes

Many teens get involved trying ‘to right a wrong’ as very young children. Many start volunteering in their community or do a service-learning project which can lead to what I describe as the pistachio nut habit: once you get a taste for activism, you want to do more.

Idealism and impatience — traits that fade with age — lead young people to test dozens of ways to recruit diverse allies, promote their cause, build coalitions, present effective testimony to elected officials, etc. Real world hands-on learning is remarkable and fast.

Truly a Win-Win

Civic spark plugs like Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (pictured above at the podium outside the US Supreme Court) have mind-boggling skills. But each of the other plaintiffs contribute unique talents that accrue at a phenomenal clip. Each experience, including legal setbacks, fuels new learning and strategic thinking that benefit the cause.

The impact of intergenerational interdependence on older people deserves more attention. Youth v Gov reveals how younger minds oxygenate and augment adult-run organizations. Watch these two short clips from the documentary.  

  • Can you imagine this level of intergenerational camaraderie at a future retreat of your organization? (Cue to 10:30 – 13:26)
  • Can you visualize the senior leadership team being so energized by their collaboration with a solid cadre of young colleagues? (Cue to 1:27:39 – 1:28:18) 

No Attrition or Burnout

One common concern is that it’s not worth collaborating with young people because they will move on within a few months. Often the opposite is true. Genuine respect, authentic collaboration, and new dynamic opportunities increase the odds for long-term commitment.

It’s been seven years since filing Juliana v. United States by Our Children’s Trust. The staying power of these 21 plaintiffs persists. Adversity often strengthens resolve.

Recently the four plaintiffs from Florida initiated a statewide petition for renewable energy that resulted in a proposed regulation that was announced last month at a news conference with two of these activists. Many of these individuals are building their own leadership pipelines that will last a lifetime.

Photo Credit: Our Children’s Trust

Please share your thoughts and also let us know how your organization is infusing the youngest generations in its work. Call 301-785-1702 or contact us!

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Elsewhere Online

10 Reasons to Work with Young Researchers to Generate Solid Data

This survey and analytical process provide a stellar example why young people are needed to help evaluate existing programs as well as shape policy deliberations and decisions.

Post-millennials, who never have operated in a world without the internet, are pros at using an array of social media platforms. Less recognized is that many are adept with various online options that promote collaboration. It is second nature for many Gen Zers to use Google Docs, Slack, Zoom, etc.

One skill-set boosted by these digital tools is Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR). It is no longer rare to see sophisticated data collection, analysis, and recommendations generated by this youth-led process. One driver of this trend is young people – especially minors –who know this advocacy strategy improves the odds that they will be taken seriously by the powers-that-be. 

Organizations, coalitions, and think tanks could benefit enormously by incorporating a YPAR strategy. Here are just a few reasons and the first one is the most valuable.

10 Reasons for YPAR

  1. To produce data that reveal potentially more honest responses from the most diverse generation ever; 
  2. To augment the expertise of professional researchers;
  3. To rethink typical survey questions and refine the language; 
  4. To deepen the qualitative and quantitative research skills of everyone involved;
  5. To use innovative dissemination strategies to reach target constituencies;
  6. To gather pertinent data to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, reassess priorities, and develop new initiatives; 
  7. To use data to strengthen the overall work and impact of your organization;
  8. To garner attention from the news media and policymakers;
  9. To save money since most employees and many consultants cost more than part-time young researchers; and
  10. To infuse young people – often the primary stakeholders – into the heart of your organization for the benefit of everyone

Formidable Skills Produce Pertinent Data

A first class example is Race to Learn by the Kentucky Student Voice Team (KSVT) based on 10,725 responses from 114 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. It was released during debate on state legislation to curb what is taught about race and ethnicity in the classrooms. 

Two excerpts reveal the integrity of their methodology, including an intentional strategy to include the most underrepresented students.

We designed our methods in consultation with our “Research Advisory Dream Team,” a group of adult allies with expertise in youth participatory action research (YPAR). We generated and refined our survey tool over the course of both asynchronous and synchronous sessions soon after the start of the 2021- 22 school year, and we did so in consultation with young people outside of our membership and with school and community-based educators throughout the state. 

The qualitative team analyzed the 23,094 responses to the six open-ended questions…the quantitative team analyzed 21 scaled questions. Our analysis included the identification of patterns in the data as we disaggregated it in order to compare the experiences of students of color and those of white students and make connections to what students were expressing in their open responses. From there, we were able to come to group consensus and prioritize some key data points and themes.

Race to Learn: Findings, Recommendations and Reflections from the Kentucky Student Voice Team’s Race, Ethnicity and School Climate Student Survey (March 2022)

Interspersed with the presentation of data are quotes by students that reflect a wide range of views but reinforce one finding that “46% of students report that their school needs to do more to confront racism.” Each of the recommendations drawn from the analysis deserves to be read in full (see page 13). 

There’s no doubt that the careful creation and wording of questions plus the dissemination through both formal and informal networks were what resulted in over 10K responses during only a two-week time frame. 

Model and Motive

The Kentucky Student Voice Team outlines its overarching goal on the first page of the report:

By operating as a transparent, inclusive, and collaborative team, and by documenting our process, we hope to provide a model for how young people and other stakeholders can act as citizen researchers to ensure more just and democratic schools and communities.

This research is a labor intensive undertaking, but young people like these Kentucky citizen researchers prove that the effort is worth it.

As you read about this impressive work, please share with us how your organization might infuse young people as interpreters of the grievances facing their generation and pragmatic solutions.

Additional Resources

For more information about the impact of intergenerational interdependence, contact us.

ALL Youth Are Already Engaged

Many adults don’t understand what youth engagement actually is. This article explores alternate visions.

“Kids these days don’t care!”
“When I was young, we were always busy.”
“I’m worried these teens are just zoned out!”

Whether its parents, researchers, youth workers, politicians, teachers, or just the older man gabbing to his seatmate at a coffee shop, it seems that young people are always getting a bad rap for being disengaged. They are decried for playing video games, doing drugs, having sex, and vaping, as if these are the signs of disengagement we should all be concerned about.

While its true that we should be concerned about negative behaviors, it’s not true that these youth are disengaged. However, it is true that many adults don’t understand what engagement actually is.

This is a definition of the word engagement: "Engagement is simply choosing the same thing over and over." - Adam F.C. Fletcher (2015) The Practice of Youth Engagement.

In my 2015 book, The Practice of Youth Engagement, I sought to simplify and redefine the word engagement in order to pragmatically reflect my work and what I’d learned in my research about youth engagement. I wrote, “Engagement is simply choosing the same thing over and over.” I understand this even more today than I did then.

Since the pandemic began three years ago, there have been a plethora of damning headlines focused on children and youth today. This includes:

  • Schools: K-12 schools raging about student disengagement in education, railing against learners who appear to be disengaged from learning and the purpose of schools;
  • Economy: The World Economic Forum is talking about “youth disillusionment” disillusionment and disengagement in employment is a top concern among youth workforce development;
  • Social Change: Despite massive efforts by young people worldwide to raise awareness and fight for systemic change in the climate crisis, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and other issues, nonprofits and other social change organizations are railing against what they see as a youth disengagement in their issues;
  • Families: Children and youth disconnecting from their home and family lives, choosing online social interactions and gaming rather than family interactions;
  • And much more.

This engagement is equated to simply showing up, attending, and participating in the places and activities that adults want, when they want, and how they want.

And understand this, please: I’m not even talking about young people having substantive roles throughout their own lives like we talk about in Youth Infusion. I’m not talking about anything specific like engaging youth as decision-makers, researchers, advocates, or anything else, either. I’m merely saying that adults are calling youth “disengaged” because youth aren’t doing what adults want them to.

Of course, this kind of treatment isn’t new. Instead, its part of a widespread, multi-millennial trashing of young people that’s been happening since time immemorial. Supposedly it was Socrates who said, “Children; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room, they contradict their parents and tyrannize their teachers. Children are now tyrants.” That was 3,000 years ago.

More recently, it was in the 1930s that teenagers were labelled the “Lost Generation” by the mass media. Scoffing at young people who left America to experience the Great Depression in Europe, Gertrude Stein invented the phrase. However, newspapers soon took up the title to describe the apparently listless, roaming hoards of teens who were riding the rails and moving from town to town for work instead of going to school and “making something of themselves.” Although it took nearly 50 years and might’ve been complete hyperbole, these same youth in this same generation were eventually lionized as “America’s Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw as he celebrated their contributions during World War II and afterward.

I bring up those examples to say that the continued labeling of youth today as disengaged is inaccurate at best, disingenuous, and ultimately, oppressive and appalling. Whether its the evergreen critical analysis of Mike Males in the late 1990s or the ongoing take down of neoliberal nonsense by Henry Giroux and others, anyone who is actually an adult ally to young people has learned to view these indictments with skepticism, if not immediate dismissal. Because they are bunkus.

The Reality of the Situation

This graphic shows two types of engagement by Adam F.C. Fletcher.

Right now, there are young people all around the world who are choosing the same things over and over. They don’t need, want, or seek adult approval for many of these things, and because of that adults don’t value their engagement, and we label them “disengaged.”

This includes young people who are doing positive activities filled with potential, including creating art, developing social messaging, fostering community, and devising innovative solutions to everyday problems. This type of engagement is convenient youth engagement, because it works for adults. We generally like what we see, what is shown, why it happens, and what happens because of it.

Look across the Freechild Institute website for examples of youth people of all kinds everywhere doing things to change the world in positive, powerful ways. Learn specifics from Youth Infusion, including how and where and why this change is happening.

However, youth engagement also includes young people who are doing things adults don’t agree with. They do these things to meet their own needs, including:

  • Self Medicating: Seeking to meet their mental health needs, youth are choosing drugs, alcohol, sex, and other activities over and over to make themselves feel better where access to healthy mental health are inaccessible;
  • Making Opportunities to Belong: Whether they are leading or joining gangs, tagging and graffiti-ing their neighborhoods, or having parties, young people are making opportunities to build belonging, support, and trust where none exist;
  • Expressing Themselves: When geographic and social communities don’t welcome youth voice, young people are sharing social media memes, producing videos, tagging buildings, making music, and otherwise expressing themselves when and where adults generally don’t want to be;
  • Entertainment: Where life is devoid of self-defined purpose and meaning, young people create opportunities for themselves to become entertained instead of substantially engaged. The outcomes of this might mean texting or gaming with their peers for hours, which isn’t inherently negative or wrong, but often rubs parents, youth workers, and teachers the wrong way because those spaces are harder to control than so-called IRL forms of entertainment.
  • And many other ways, including making and spending money, critiquing and challenging authority, and building hope for the future where there appears to be none.

I call these activities inconvenient youth engagement because of the nature of their existence: They aren’t prescribed by adults, and the outcomes can’t be predicted by adults. I don’t mean this facetiously; instead, I mean it truthfully that adults are almost wholly and completely uncomfortable with reactionary, self-driven, and situational youth engagement in which young people continuously choose things for themselves over and over that adults wouldn’t choose for them. However, in the absence of not choosing anything, adults inadvertently choose for young people to create their own ways to meet their needs.

And ultimately, please learn to see the reality right now: All youth are already engaged, whether its in ways adults want or not, for reasons adults approve of or not, and at times adults think they should be or not.

5 Ways to See Youth Engagement Differently

If you’re concerned about youth engagement, there are practical things you can do right now. Don’t be concerned with whether youth are engaged or not; simply be aware that if they aren’t engaged in what you want, when you want, where you want, and in ways you don’t want them to be, you’re going to have to provide a more compelling, honest, and authentic reason for them to be engaged in other ways.

Here are five ways you can see youth engagement right now, and do other things to engage youth.

  • Real Talk: Have REAL conversations with young people and actually listen to what they want to say;
  • Real Action: Provide practical, meaningful, and purposeful alternatives to what they are already engaged in;
  • Real Power: Create substantive and powerful ways to infuse youth throughout the operations of your organization in ALL ways;
  • Real Reality: Recognize the ways young people choose to be engaged on their own by engaging them in similar ways, and;
  • Real Reinvention: Sustain, evaluate, re-invent, and re-invent in youth infusion every season for every young person who becomes engaged.

Starting with these steps as a guide, move forward knowing that ALL young people are already engaged, right now.

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Attn Non-Profits: Five Recommendations for Anti-Racist Representation

Significant Youth Infusion is happening at this United Way in Seattle that is advancing beyond ‘youth voice.’

Back in 2002, I collaborated with United Way of America and co-authored Youth as Equal Partners which didn’t get much traction. Two decades later, there’s real reliance on young experts by the United Way of King County in Washington State. 

This prioritization of BIPOC youth can be traced to some tenacious Gen Z leaders who know firsthand that their grassroots organizations cannot compete or survive with the “Non-Profit Industrial Complex.” For over a year, the King County Youth Commission identified how voices of the historically excluded continue to be “devalued, dismissed and disregarded” and demand “a paradigm shift to dismantle this system that is so exploitative.”

We are tired of fighting for representation. It should be a given that the most impacted members of our community be given access to opportunities that are not only compensated but have actual decision-making power. 

Organization Seized the Opportunity to Collaborate with Youth

Typically young change makers guard their autonomy because they are distrustful and impatient with established institutions. In this case, these experienced young advocates are demanding systemic organizational transformation and fortunately, some equally committed staff at United Way share the same vision. An extensive 8-month research project by a team of young experts, who were paid about $25/hour by United Way’s Reconnecting Youth Initiative, generated Youth Tell All: Youth Centered Analysis on Youth Development in King County. 

Urgent, unequivocal, and uncompromising is how I would describe the eloquent young researchers who presented straightforward recommendations based on their in-depth interviews with nearly 40 Black, brown, Indigenous, and queer youth. 

Recommendation 1: Make young people integral to all decision-making, implementation, evaluation, and feedback processes.

Recommendation 2: It is vital to develop healthy and safe, as well as honest and consistent, relationships with young people.

Recommendation 3: Our decision-makers should represent our communities.

Recommendation 4: Build authentic relationships with our communities while centering the experiences of the people most affected.

Recommendation 5: Pay us for the ideas, time, labor, and leadership we contribute to your organization.

At this online presentation, the research team invited the executive director of the Seattle-based organization FEEST that lives by these five recommendations. High school students are involved at “a high level in strategic planning,” compensation is above $15/hour, and cardboard pizza has been replaced with nutritious Indigenous food in school cafeterias along with other significant wins.

Youth Tell All is not another report gathering dusk.  This spring, United Way of King County will begin a youth-led participatory grant process where youth will directly decide $100,000 funding to youth-identified priorities. 

When you work with young people, they provide feedback, and we realize they’re the product of the society we built. They have yet to be jaded and yet to be trained to mask what they’re feeling, so they are brutally honest. And when they’re brutally honest, they can call out where the discrepancies are in our work, so that we can listen to exactly where we need to and must make changes to better support youth.

Ruel Olanday, Jr. with United Way of King County

Influence is Inadequate

Read Youth Tell All  for a deeper understanding on how mainstream institutions, headed mostly by white adults, have the power to intentionally infuse young people into structures with real power to help produce lasting community change that benefits everyone.

These recommendations mean nothing if they are not acted on. The power of this report is that we did the research for you. From our Methods, all the way to our Glossary, which even includes related readings for you to deepen your understanding, the data is there. We interviewed the youth, we read the countless studies supporting our findings, and the youth led this project from the start to the finish.

The only thing that is left to do:

  • Pay the Youth who make it so your organization can thrive. This means Paying them with more than just experience, opportunities, or minimum wage. 
  • Give them decision-making power, not influence. This means making your decision-making processes so seamless that youth are already included from the start, and not when it’s time to “bring in the youth for feedback.”
  • Ensure that your organization, from staff, to board, represents the communities you serve.  Yes, this means hiring the same youth from your programs into these roles when they are ready! Yes, this means stepping down from a role that would best be served by a BIPOC community member. 
  • Mentor the Youth and develop safe, healthy, and honest relationships with them. This means giving them honest guidance, and not projecting your own trauma, or paternalistic feelings onto them and what you think they should be doing. 
  • Build authentic relationships with the communities you serve. This means all-year-round support, not just when your organization needs to check off a box for a grant deliverable.

Devan Rogers, Anti-Racist Community Organizer, and Abolitionist

Tracking Progress

More updates will follow here @ YouthInfusion.org on how United Way of King County is leading the way on authentic intergenerational interdependence to represent all constituencies in a county with over 2.25 million people.

Photo Credit: FEEST: Making Justice Irresistibly Delicious 

Resources

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Avoiding Roadblocks with Youth

Teens join an academic research team in creating survey questions that so far have generated over 350,000 responses.

Intergenerational Symbiosis?!?

Check out this innovative organization that succeeds at circumventing roadblocks that stop many nonprofits and agencies from pursuing substantive and sustained collaboration with those under age 18. 

One of those onerous challenges that I personally dealt with in graduate school was to get approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to interview students about their experiences participating and advocating for restorative practices. An effective way to avoid this obstacle is to be explicit that young people are sharing their opinions, perspectives and ideas, not revealing their personal experiences. Because activities are determined to be of minimal risk to minors, no parent/guardian consent is required as in the case of this powerhouse organization.  

Associate Professor Tammy Chang at University of Michigan founded My Voice National Poll of Youth, a text-message platform that surveys youth and communities typically “invisible” to researchers. 

Dr. Chang includes teens on the academic research team to develop questions through an iterative writing and piloting process. “A reason why you have youth is because adults – including me as a physician – might think it is totally normal to ask a question but it could be really disturbing or damaging.” Her team is intentional in its participant pool: “We are not trying to get all student council presidents and valedictorians and that is why we use SMS that’s accessible to all.” 

One of her colleagues, 17-year-old Abby Frank, describes her role. 

I’m involved in the entire data collection process, brainstorming questions, coding responses, discussing outcomes and implications of research with the entire team…They are flexible and always ask what time frame works for my schedule. If I miss a meeting, I let them know in advance and then get caught up on what was discussed. 

In addition to carefully vetted questions that resonate with Gen Z, participants understand the big picture which is why over 350,000 responses have been generated so far.

  • REAL WORLD PURPOSE.  Clear explanation of why: “Our research team uses your responses to inform policymakers and community leaders in real-time about the needs and priorities of youth.”
  • AUTHENTICITY VALUED. “Tell us what you really think!”
  • CLEAR EXPECTATIONS.  Respond via text to 2-5 questions each week for 12 weeks in a row on a given topic
  • CONFIDENTIALITY.  All responses anonymous
  • COMPENSATION.  Gift cards
  • FEEDBACK LOOP.  Share summaries of opinions and interesting findings
  • NEW EXPERIENCES.  Continually offer unique opportunities

We create lots of opportunities. Get as many young people on our team – the answer is always YES! If they can come to one meeting or 100 meetings, every time they engage we are always learning something new. The secret sauce with My Voice is they understand our whole goal to uplift their voices in the spirit of generosity, trust, mutual respect. 

 –  Dr. Tammy Chang

The ongoing interactions and obvious rapport between this visionary leader and her younger colleagues are part of the magic. Dr. Chang makes intergenerational symbiosis look easy and actually, it is. After all, everyone regardless of age brings unique skills that have the potential to be inclusive, intergenerational and impactful as long as though all of us are open and willing to figure out how to circumvent the age-based roadblocks.

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We’d love to hear how you are thinking about infusing young people in your organization.

“Intergenerational” Becoming More Widespread

The term “intergenerational” is gaining traction. Will this approach replace “youth-led adult-supported” programs or “youth-adult partnerships” which typically preserve traditional hierarchies? Will this paradigm shift become the new norm in another decade when Millennials and Gen Zers take over from the old guard?

Young people have played decisive roles in nearly every major social movement. Similar to previous generations, many teenage activists operate with autonomy. Their sense of urgency and distrust of being co-opted even by potential allies persists. This independence can build crucial solidarity that can exert unique power.

Clues of Change

While many youth stick to mobilizing exclusively with their peers, a significant segment of Gen Zers opt to collaborate with adults. Here are a few possible explanations for this new trend.

  1. Teens who have participated for several years with “entirely youth-led campaigns” decide to see if they can achieve more by teaming up with adult-run organizations and coalitions.
  2. Camaraderie can blossom naturally because frontline and mid-level staff, who also became civically active as teens, remember being ignored, tokenized or controlled by older folks and are ready to stop this cycle.
  3. Nonprofits and government agencies operate youth advisory councils, internships and one-off projects that introduce teens to these organizations, however, these engagement programs keep teens on the sidelines that contrast with the Youth Infusion process.

I have been immersed in youth-led activism for decades and surprised that the term “intergenerational” seems to be gaining traction. Will this approach replace “youth-driven adult-supported” programs or “youth-adult partnerships” which typically preserve traditional hierarchies? Will this paradigm shift become the new norm in another decade when Millennials and Gen Zers take over from the old guard?

Evidence of Change

Two important reports reveal this trend.

The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) published its 20-year national scan based on data provided by community-based organizations in every region of the country. 

  • “Intergenerational” is the description of a whopping 70 percent of organizations in this survey of over 300 groups. 
  • Younger youth are increasingly active: a doubling of those between the ages of 11-13 since 2013 which means a growing pool of potential collaborators.
  • Intentional outreach by youth to build alliances with older generations. In the words of one immigrant rights activist:

Young people that were doing their own thing and then realized, wait a minute, we don’t want our parents or other family members who aren’t DREAM Act eligible not to be organizing with us. They were working with adults or even younger, bright young people who weren’t DREAM Act eligible either. But they were doing multigenerational organizing.

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) assessment of six community-based grantees described as “intergenerational partnerships” focuses on significant adult attitude adjustments, including:  

  • Rethink age binaries and one suggestion – drop the label “youth” altogether;
  • Redefine “adult allyship” that reflects adults’ individual assessment of their ability to listen to, respect and support young people – regardless of the participants’ own age;
  • Build rapport through informal exchanges with youth outside of meetings even though these interactions may feel “unprofessional” to adults; and 
  • Recognize that knowledge transfer is mutual and evaluate both youth and adult civic learning. 

Intergenerational interdependence is in its early stage of development. It is a complex process because it hinges so much on relationships. Instead of asking youth to conform to established modes of operation and prevailing practices, staff must be genuinely curious and actually reliant on perspectives of those not represented or misrepresented. If youth know their role is not to be cheerleaders or clones but co-designers and yes, even critics, serious collaboration can actually make history.

Resources:

20 Years of Youth Power: The 2020 National Field Scan by the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing

Working and Learning Together for Equitable Impact: An Impact
Assessment of Intergenerational Civic Partnerships in The Civic Spring
Project
by Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

Our workshops and consulting are customized to support your organization’s efforts to engage in radical inclusion with the rising generation. Contact us to brainstorm possibilities!

Funders + Donors Judge Your Constituent Feedback

How your nonprofit engages with your beneficiaries can determine future financial support! There’s a new rating system by the world’s largest independent charity evaluator and leading donor matchmaker.

How your nonprofit engages with your beneficiaries can determine future financial support! There’s a new rating system by the world’s largest independent charity evaluator and leading donor matchmaker.

Charity Navigator has rolled out Constituent Feedback. This rating signals another concrete reason to engage in Youth Infusion. This is a process embedded in your organization–not merely a program.

Student Voice is not a slogan at Pace Center. Girls at campuses across Florida collaborated with their peers, school staff, juvenile justice and probation officers to identify why many were ending up in detention centers for not showing up in court. This intergenerational effort in Broward County produced numerous solutions that reduced arrests by 27 percent caused by failing to make it to court.

Building Evidence of Social Impact, a report by PACE and MilwayPLUS social impact advisors, examines a dozen nonprofits committed to continual participation of those served and found concrete outcomes from Constituent Feedback:

Why is Listening, Reflecting and Acting on Feedback Mission Critical? provides revealing strategies on the Pace Center’s process of sustained collaboration with marginalized youth to achieve organizational and policy changes.

Additional Resources:

Graphic credit: Charity Navigator

Leading Thinkers Rely on Young Minds

Are you shifting your mindset and organizational culture to recognize “the wisdom of youth” instead of the appreciative but patronizing “creative energy of youth”?

Change is afoot. In my third decade of working with nonprofits and government agencies as well as collaborating closely with hundreds of teen activists across the country, I detect several exciting trends. Many individuals and institutions that engage youth typically describe the “creative energy” and “idealism.” Now I’m hearing a very different mindset that emphasizes the “wisdom of youth.

I need to build structures in my life where I am routinely channeling and getting feedback, ideas and spirit from younger people…There’s a particular wisdom of youth–this generation has a very practiced sense of how to shift social norms, not just social media but a deeper awareness of how to change hearts and minds.

Eric Lui, CEO, Citizen University 

OXYGENATE

I know young people propel my own neuroplasticity and also know firsthand that young people literally oxygenate organizations.

It is our mission at Youth Infusion to encourage adults, especially those at the helm of organizations, to practice adaptive leadership that extends to being open to listening and learning with the rising generation. 

My contention is intergenerational interdependence is a win-win not only in terms of youth development but lifelong human development…reawakening the adventurous [spirit] and plasticity. 

Ronald Heifetz, Author, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

DIVERSIFY

Not long ago it was rare for women, people of color and those with disabilities to share power with White men. It is ironic that in most organization’s DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) initiatives, a quarter of the population continues to be excluded. 

Diversity needs to include diversity of age. I find people with fresh eyes, impatient eyes, angry eyes actually make you see things in ways that are very important. You need to be in constant touch with people who don’t think they belong…If you are isolating yourself from those with different energy you cannot be transformative in your work. 

– Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder, PolicyLink 

CURIOSITY

It is up to us–adults–to be genuinely curious so that young people believe we do not want adult clones but rely on them to ask the questions and explore solutions that most of us no longer dare ponder. 

The collective “we” need young people to be able to activate their imaginations…How does one keep an imagination firing off when we live in a nation that is constantly vacuuming it from them? And I think that the answer is, one must live a curious life. 

– Jason Reynolds, Author, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

As with any paradigm shift, there is a need to examine current attitudes, weigh different approaches, engage in careful preparation, pursue innovation and expect recalibration. Our multi-racial intergenerational team is eager and ready to help you and your colleagues advance to this new level and realize the ROI of Youth Infusion. Some of these intentional strategies are outlined below using the popular activity commonly referred to as Rose (something positive), Thorn (something negative), and Bud (promising concept).

I. SHIFTING ADULT ATTITUDES

Outside of one’s family and classrooms, interactions between young people and adults, especially senior and middle management, are rare. Age apartheid can cement long-held and outdated attitudes. Racial segregation may be another reason why adults have a narrow lens, failing to recognize Generation Z as the most diverse ever. 

PREVAILING VIEWS ABOUT YOUTH 
  • Rose – Youth, who may act less defiant than their peers and know how to code switch with adults, will hear slogans like “youth are the leaders of tomorrow.” Traditional mentoring is the norm. Youth influence typically is seen as limited to their generation. 
  • Thorn – The hot cognition button in the teenage brain reinforces frightening images. Impulsive or violent behavior persist as dominant stereotypes even though the data reveal most risky adolescent behaviors are at historically low levels
CHANGING MINDSETS ABOUT YOUTH 
  • Thorn – Adults may be unconscious of their own adultism that can result in protective or controlling behaviors which maintain unequal power dynamics. Supervisors and co-workers may opt for token youth engagement and resist shared decision-making. 
  • Bud – There is greater recognition that young people influence not only their peers but also parents, policymakers, the press. As minors, they can play major roles now. Presumed competence, combined with mutual mentoring and collegiality, represent this adult attitude adjustment.

One could boil down this changing mindset to a single philosophical preposition: “WITH” replaces doing “FOR” or “TO” youth.

II. TRANSFORMING INSTITUTIONS

Instead of thinking “IF” young people could be collaborators, switch the question to “HOW.” Of course, young people don’t jump on board until there is organizational readiness including new policies as well as carefully designed orientations for the newcomers along with adult staff. Our trainings and technical assistance introduce numerous options and we co-facilitate an 8-Step Youth Infusion Process. Here are a few general guidelines to progress from conventional youth engagement to synergistic systems. 

STICKING WITH TRADITIONAL YOUTH ENGAGEMENT
  • Rose – Youth advisory councils are commonplace at youth-serving nonprofits and schools. Many cities and states have established youth commissions. The emphasis focuses on youth development and leadership skills. Typically these advisory boards plan community projects, conduct surveys and youth participatory action research that may lead to formal recommendations.
  • Thorn – A major challenge is these advisory councils fail to attract marginalized youth most impacted and furthest from power. Ongoing exchange and collegial rapport between youth reps and adults at sponsoring institutions are limited. Typically youth are not encouraged to pursue systemic change and policy advocacy. 
ADVANCING TOWARD INTERGENERATIONAL SYNERGY
  • Thorn – Inertia maintains the standard work week that conflicts with the inflexible schedules of youth. The organization fails to engage in radical inclusion and maintains conventional practices that keep youth on the sidelines. Staff turnover may result in reversing commitment to a multi-racial intergenerational organization. 
  • Bud – Adaptive leadership, combined with a culture of curiosity and innovation, considers numerous strategies for infusing youth ranging from several part-time youth on staff to a cohort of consultants. Organizations adopt youth-friendly policies and intentionally expand DEIJ in recruitment and retention of BIPOC youth.

This intergenerational approach provides opportunities in the real world where young people share power with adults by contributing their insights and ideas from co-creation to advocacy and evaluation of programs and policies. The result: they prove their strength to themselves and the larger community. In return, dedicated professionals derive energy as young collaborators fuel new thinking and remedies that may have become stale to the adult world.

Every week we are learning more effective strategies for how individuals are transforming their nonprofits and agencies. We hope you will contact us to explore how to realize the full “Rosebud” and increase the impact of your organization. 

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Adults Devote Serious Support to Youth Police Reformers

Policymakers and other adult-led initiatives that are serious about collaborating with youth movements and community-based coalitions must reckon with how full-time staff and organizations need to commit the resources to ensure ‘Youth Voices’ is not just a feel-good slogan. 

How do you actually hear youth? A growing number of organizations pay lip service to ‘youth voices’ but never get past mottos and one-off events. We are learning how organizations actually listen and respond to perspectives, grievances, and solutions of the rising generation. This article explores how adults are making certain that ‘youth voices’ are front and center in the raging debates about policing on the streets and in the schools.

Policing Youth

The two initiatives featured here illustrate the monetary and pro bono support that resulted in real outcomes.

RESOURCES RESULTS
» City provided over $500,000 to garner experiences and proposed remedies from youth of all backgrounds.» Proposals by youth became the top recommendation by the city-appointed task force on police reforms.
» Adult volunteers and graduate students contributed over 100 hours to complete a comprehensive student police-free schools.
» School Board recommended to the Education Commissioner and Governor to enact the student coalition school safety plan.

Central Youth Role: Police + School Security Policies

The city of Oakland, California established the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force responsible for reallocating 50% of the $150 million Police Department budget. The 17-members included youth members, Ivan Garcia and Losaline Moa. Together with two key adult allies, they advocated successfully for extra Task Force funding of  $532,200 for a “citywide youth leadership strategy that authentically partners youth to participate and engage with decision makers at the highest level.” 

IMPACT:  Surveys, listening sessions, the “Black Youth Thought Wall,” and other outreach required money and staff support (Reimagining Public Safety Final Report and Recommendations see pages 61-63). This structured ‘youth voice’ process had a decisive influence that is evident in the Task Force Tier One Recommendations (see page 12) that include reallocating money for alternatives to criminalization, mental health services, etc. The City Council voted unanimously but has yet to fully fund all these proposals.

In Rhode Island, several youth-led nonprofits have been relentless in their Counselors Not Cops campaigns. To get more traction, five of these organizations formed a coalition, boosted by crucial support from a cadre of researchers at Brown University and other allies including the Center for Justice.

Recently released is the Providence Alliance for Student Safety Plan. Their comprehensive proposal, enhanced by testimonials by students and educators, calls for the elimination of all school resource officers and maps out a $8million to $9million line-by-line budget for social workers, psychologists and other positions at each Providence high school

IMPACT: In response to this long-term advocacy, the Providence Board of Education recommended to the Governor and Education Commissioner to eliminate all school resource officers from the largest school system in Rhode Island. More student walkouts are expected to pressure the Governor who publicly opposes police-free schools. 


Real Reform No More Token Gestures

Both reports deserve a deep read but one fundamental shift is the Providence Alliance for School Safety explicitly rejects the typical role of students having the proverbial ‘Seat at the Table.’ Instead students, especially those impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline and under-represented, need to be deciding ‘What’s on the Menu.’  

We Deserve and Demand Student Voices at the Lead — We propose that the District vest control over student safety and accountability in a committee of Youth Advocates and community allies, selected by youth. This youth-led committee will have control over school safety–abolishing punitive disciplinary policies, defining the actions schools will take to address disciplinary issues without the intervention of police, and guiding the design and implementation of transformative justice policies.

Providence Alliance School Safety Plan

Milly Asherov, a rising senior who works at the Providence Student Union as the Leadership Co-Director, is still exhausted from the coalition’s weekly Zoom meetings. She recognizes one major success factor of this four-month marathon project is symbiosis. 

  • Students provided concrete insider knowledge that contrast the impact of campuses with school resource officers and those operating with school safety teams as well as trauma-trained mental health professionals. 
  • Graduate students devoted their research skills to scouring programs in other school districts, collecting stats, generating a budget with baseline salaries for counselors, restorative justice specialists, etc.
  • Adult allies dedicated over 100 pro bono hours compiling the information and intense writing with weekly Zoom meetings and ongoing consulting with students every step of the way.

“Youth were present in all interviews with partnerships that could contribute solutions to school safety and all decided by youth. The adults were always checking with us to make sure every section of the report reflected our voices and understood our role in this plan was not just to edit grammar in the report.”

Milly Asherov, Classical High School Class of 2022

Adults Are Allies + Accomplices

Adults in California who advocated for significant resources ensured the two youth members were not token representatives on the 17-member Reimagining Public Safety Task Force. Half a million dollars resulted in very substantive input from young people across the city that paid for facilitators, stipends for participants, and staff who worked the youth members in similar fashion to those city employees who assisted the 15 other Task Force members. 

In Rhode Island, the hours of research and writing required to generate the Providence Alliance for School Safety plan depended on the intense involvement of dedicated adults. The hardcore reality is even students with superb time management skills rarely have enough free hours or flexible schedules to take such a behemoth project with significant support.

Policymakers and other adult-led initiatives that are serious about collaborating with youth movements and community-based coalitions must reckon with how full-time staff and organizations need to commit the resources to ensure ‘Youth Voices’ is not just a feel-good slogan. 


Contact us to explore how your organization or agency make youth exclusion a relic of the past!

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An Intergenerational Career Pipeline

More agencies, including service providers, recognize the need to infuse young people with lived experience right smack in their leadership circle.

Solid commitments to intergenerational collaboration build a career pipeline to attract young people of color that serves as a model for other organizations. 

Maria Nuñez describes herself as defiant when she attended New Horizons in Pasco, Washington. School counselor Carolyn Cox’s Mindset Reset room is where any student could really blow off steam. Carolyn makes it clear that one’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score does not define anyone. Maria was determined not to follow the traditional path of working in the fields or the factory. Carolyn’s SPARK program at this alternative school introduced this rebellious student to the hope of a career in behavioral health. 

While working 2 jobs, being pregnant, and going to school, Maria got her GED at 19 shortly after having her daughter. She completed the training and state exam to become a Certified Peer Counselor (CPC) which is a Medicaid reimbursable service. Soon she was gainfully employed and then advanced to a Youth and Parent Certified Peer Counselor Trainer. The next rung on her career ladder was to join the SPARK Development Team as the Contract Manager where she explains the range of responsibilities.

“We plan out our classes, run the program, manage funds and deliverables, present to the community and across the state about the SPARK program.”

Maria shatters stereotypes. Her doctor could not believe that “I had this job with my bald head and tattoos.” At age 21, she just got promoted to fill a new position as SPARK Project Director for the Washington Statewide Youth Leadership Network.

Maria continues to defy expectations. She is the first Latina youth appointed to the Governor’s Behavioral Health Advisory Council. More agencies, including service providers, recognize the need to infuse young people with lived experience right smack in their leadership circle.

Organizational Structures Mandate Youth Involvement

A legal settlement and subsequent legislation mandated substantive youth involvement. A lawsuit required the state of Washington to build a mental health system for Medicaid-eligible children and youth age 20 or younger with complex emotional, behavioral, and social issues. Included in the agreement is licensed behavioral health agencies pay CPCs for their mental health and substance abuse peer counseling with Medicaid funds. 

In addition to SPARK’s partnership with the Washington Health Care Authority to provide services along with workforce development, many CPCs participate in other policy making structures that explicitly rely on input from youth and young adults. 

  • Maria and others from SPARK are involved in Family Youth System Partner Round Tables (FYSPRT) that meet monthly to suggest improvements for treatment and services at the local and regional levels. 
  • Recent legislation added seats for two youth/young adults with lived experience to serve on a new subgroup, Youth and Young Adult Continuum of Care (YYACC), to prioritize issues identified by FYSPRT. 
  • Another example of intentional youth infusion is the WA Behavioral Health Advisory Council that requires 51 percent community members, which include young people, who identify gaps and priorities in the federal SAMSHA block grant.  

Back when Maria was in high school, she never imagined these ambitious roles and responsibilities. SPARK provides a home with a solid foundation of intergenerational interdependence.

Creating a Collegial Culture

It is apparent that Carolyn Cox, co-founder of SPARK, has an infectious spirit and terrific sense of humor along with her own history that she knows peer support could have made an enormous difference when she was young. 

Board member Ahney King describes the “aura” that Carolyn creates because young people know “she really lets them be themselves, lets them feel, and lets them speak.” The attitude at SPARK seems to truly embrace new and untried approaches. 

Carolyn regards Maria as “my right hand man” and Maria reciprocates, describing how they “bounce off” of each other. Ahney credits her continued learning to her interactions with young people: 

“Maria’s courage inspires me to speak out rather than stay quiet.”

The power of peer-to-peer influence is undeniable and there are plenty of reasons why adult-run organizations lose out if they are not partnering with young people as colleagues.  

  • RACIAL DIVERSITY. In the field of behavioral health–which is dominated by older white women–the outreach strategies by Maria and her peers result in attracting many people of color including young men to pursue CPC trainings, paid apprenticeships and higher education. 

  • REALITY CHECK. Another obvious reason for enlisting people who are similar in age to those receiving services is to get informed, uncensored input essential for effective monitoring and evaluation.
  • SYSTEMS CHANGE. A team of SPARK Certified Peer Counselors now are co-designing a new program to reach current and formerly incarcerated juveniles that will differentiate from services for adults exiting the corrections system. 

This model program demonstrates that it just makes sense for professionals to work with other trailblazers like Maria Nuñez. As Carolyn Cox sums up her core philosophy with typical ebullience.

“The youth that I get to see and learn from bring so much to the table.  We want to continue to grow our programs for our youth with our youth. We couldn’t do this without their input.”

Could your organization learn from SPARK to build a career pipeline to remedy the acute shortages not only in behavioral health but other sectors? 

Could your organization change its culture and structure to hire more young people who grow into leadership positions?

Contact us about our online workshops that are designed to help you and your team achieve these objectives and more!

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Infuse “Y” in DEI