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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.

Pace’s report, Building Evidence of Social Impact, 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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Elsewhere Online

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

Avoiding Rubber Stamp Syndrome

Is this how young people feel when collaborating with adults? When asked for their ideas and input, do they feel is it too late? Do they sense there is little room to add new material or start from scratch?

I experienced a smidgen of what a young person might feel when collaborating with elders. Following my abbreviated summary, I’ll offer a few reflections on how to avoid the Rubber Stamp Syndrome where one feels as though they need to go along to get along. Spoiler alert: Don’t jump to the end.

Here’s what happened.

On short notice, I agreed to help facilitate an online workshop about how young people can participate in the public policy arena. I had no previous interaction with my co-presenter but knew they was not a novice. After only a minute or two sharing about our relevant experience, backgrounds, they shared their set of Google slides. My initial reaction was appreciation that they had done the heavy lifting. 

  • I had been preoccupied with a deadline and their initiative saved me time in developing an outline together. 
  • Another benefit: they knew the audience better than me. 
  • Their confidence and competence encouraged me to assume the role as backup singer rather than sharing the mic. 

Then my attitude shifted. 

Everything from the sequence of slides to the font size seemed set. They assured me we could change anything but that would bring into question their expertise. Teamwork and flexibility are in my DNA but I began to withdraw. It would be awkward for me to raise alternative or additional topics and this process could mean another 30-minute discussion. Rather than offer other suggestions, I expressed my appreciation that they serve as the lead presenter. Even though I wanted this subordinate role, the absence of a co-creative process actually bothered me. 

Is this how young people feel when collaborating with adult(s)? When asked for their ideas and input, do they feel is it too late? Do they sense there is little room to add new material or start from scratch? 

Guaranteeing Genuine Collaboration 

The presentation went smoothly. I chimed in a handful of times and tried not to interrupt their flow. Now for the part I left out: My workshop partner was 16 years old. This experience proved to be a superb reminder about the illusion of intergenerational collaboration.

Is it possible to avoid the Rubber Stamp Syndrome? Our interactive workshop dives deep into this chronic problem but here are just a few opening rounds to set the stage for equal footing in the co-creation process.

  1. Rapport – Start talking about something fun, weird, topical or newsworthy (less contrived than an icebreaker). Hopefully something you hear will spark your curiosity that keeps the two-way conversation relaxed.

2. Profiles – Share a few interesting and relevant highlights about your professional background but make sure not to drown out or intimidate. Without sounding like an interrogator, follow up with questions about their experiences and what sparked initial interest in this cause and/or organization.

3. Background – Give a brief rundown on the organization’s priority, goal, current situation, issue at hand, etc. and ask the preferred media for sharing more info (IG, Twitter, video, webinar, infographic, annual report, etc.).

4. Brainstorm – Introduce a future project or perhaps a dilemma and then volunteer that you don’t know have the answer or know how best to proceed. Ask for any immediate thoughts and then figure out together next steps and when to continue the discussion. 

Contact us about our Youth Infusion workshop that includes role plays and teaches strategies to achieve genuine collegiality that can result in a win-win for everyone and your organization.

“Radical Inclusion” in Action

This organization’s principled process of Radical Inclusion is explicit: “expansively modifying boundaries in a way which creates a difference in the possibilities for engagement, as well as creating spaces that are more accessible, welcoming and inclusive of BIPOC youth and adults.”

Every youth-serving organization can learn critical lessons from UP for Learning where Youth Infusion is embedded in its culture and organizational structure.

Usually in the education sector, school administrators and teachers seek input from a handpicked cadre of students. The ideas and grievances expressed are noted but routinely discarded.

This statewide organization may have cracked the code. Executive Director Lindsey Halman is not exaggerating when she emphasizes UP for Learning’s commitment to “Radical Inclusion.” The traditional hierarchy has been replaced – teens and teachers are conspiring together to transform their archaic education system. In the words of a principal and team member: 

 

I had many opportunities to listen to youth; they reflected such a high level of introspection and passion. My takeaway was simple – no longer can change occur in education without youth-adult partnership.    

                            

UP for Learning’s involvement at 95 percent of high schools across Vermont is moving the needle where students are recognized as experts and yes, equals. They sure know the difference! 

At my school, no one is asked what we think and when adults ask questions, they seem rhetorical.Maisie Franke, 10th grade

As the student rep, I never felt belittled by the school board but the structure isn’t there whereas on the UP Board of Directors, I never feel adult dominance. Galen Reese, 11th grade 

The UP Board of Directors is welcoming and super open, even if it is something negative. Alex Smart, 12th grade

It was only six months into my senior year that I ever spoke with any school decision maker. Now I meet regularly with the School District Leadership Board, the Vermont Equity Practitioners Network, and Rooted Organizing Communities. I SEE WE ARE PEERS.  Evelyn Monje, 12th grade 

Inclusive Representation

The organization’s principled process of “Radical Inclusion” is explicit: “expansively modifying boundaries in a way which creates a difference in the possibilities for engagement, as well as creating spaces that are more accessible, welcoming and inclusive of BIPOC youth and adults.”

UP’s commitment to diversity in a state with a population that is 94 percent white provides additional lessons.

  • Recruitment. Reduce barriers (i.e., waive grade and attendance eligibility requirements, offer additional transportation, make extra efforts to collect signed permission forms for youth in foster care or unstable living situations)
  • Multi-lingual. Provide translators, recruit and compensate young bilingual co-facilitators, produce fliers in numerous languages, etc. 

Another secret that reveals Youth Infusion is how teens and teachers actually take turns at the steering wheel. The foundation is solid enough that its “full partnership” model is flexible. High school senior Alex Smart explains that sometimes it makes more sense for adults to approach school administrators and other times, full-time UP staff step back during student-centered forums. 

Measurable Outcomes

In addition to the intangible benefits resulting from intergenerational collaboration, here are a few examples of UP for Learning’s impact.

  • 2 new questions added to the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey
  • 40 youth-adult teams engaged in yearlong Participatory Action Research projects
  • 7 monthly virtual racial justice dialogues between students in Vermont and Mississippi 
  • 1 hr/month the Winooski School Board meeting is devoted entirely to K-12 equity and antiracism work with youth facilitating these sessions

Youth Infusion continues to grow deeper roots in this organization. Student leaders have always been compensated for their work doing community outreach, analyzing survey data, etc. Now high school senior Evelyn Monje is the first part-time employee at UP for Learning. In my interview, it’s fair to say she does not sugarcoat anything so her statement carries extra credibility: “Youth-adult partnerships is the answer. There is so much growth and creativity and adults value this experience.”  

A teacher shares how transformative this experience has been.

Participating on this team was the BEST part of my school year. I began the year, quite literally, in August, during our first few days of inservice thinking – I don’t want to be a teacher any more, this system is too broken. I think I need to quit my job. I thought this a lot as the year continued. I am ending the year knowing that I want to keep working with youth, largely because of this team and seeing a new way to do it, and I want to explore my teaching role and explore special education or alternative education as a new career pathway.

Part of the reason I stuck with it and didn’t quit teaching was my commitment to this group and youth-adult partnership, which I found very healing and important. Thank you to everyone for making this possible.


Watch for a future blog about the groundbreaking intergenerational work in one Vermont school district to actualize 8 Antiracism Demands that, by the way, are translated in Swahili, Nepali and Somali.

Contact us to learn more about this and other organizations that live and breathe Youth Infusion and be the change you want to be!

Photo credit UP for Learning

Youth Infusion in Systems

This article by Adam F.C. Fletcher explores what Youth Infusion can look like in systems, including education, government, healthcare and more.

Youth Infusion is the idea that as humans in our society, young people must be viewed and treated as full and integral members of every system they are part of, and this graphic shows what is included…

A system is a set of things that work together to accomplish a goal. Young people today can be parts of many systems, including their homes, families, schools, neighborhoods, youth programs, and more. Youth Infusion is the idea that as humans in our society, young people must be viewed and treated as full and integral members of every system they are part of.

Education, government, families, the economy, and healthcare are all examples of systems.

Understanding Systems

Made by humans in order to deliver various functions, every society in every nation worldwide is made of systems. The economy, law enforcement, healthcare, religion, and public health are all systems.

Systems are made of many interconnected parts. There are eight elements in any system:

  1. Cause: Every system exists for a reason.
  2. Parts: Every system operates with different parts.
  3. Functions: There are ways that every system functions with.
  4. Roles: Whether passive or active, everybody has a job in the system.
  5. Flaws: Every system has problems, challenges and breaks.
  6. Redundancy: Systems can have unnecessary or backup parts.
  7. Organization: Every system has at least one beginning, middle and end.
  8. Additions: There are parts attached to systems.

An Example System

Think about schools. Schools are systems. This is a breakdown of each element of a system as we look at schools.

  1. Cause: Schools exist to support democracy, including the economy and politics.
  2. Parts: There are grade levels and topics throughout the school system.
  3. Functions: More than learning and teaching, there are social, administrative, and many other functions in public schools.
  4. Roles: Schools have specific roles for each person involved, sometimes named and often unnamed.
  5. Flaws: Every school all the time; there are no perfect schools.
  6. Redundancy: Summer schools and in-school suspension are redundancies in education; sometimes entire schools, teachers, or districts can be redundant.
  7. Organization: The hierarchal structure of the education system within a school and beyond the building are the organization.
  8. Additions: Along with the academic and cultural purpose of schools, there are additions to the education system including public health, social conditioning and more.

Youth Infusion can ensure that young people are meaningfully involved throughout systems instead of being tokenized, over-simplified, or otherwise excluded.

Understanding Youth Infusion

Youth Infusion is based in the idea that every young person is a full human being right now, and not simply an adult-in-the-making. It assumes that people value young people and want justice, equity, and possibilities for every child and youth in our society. Youth Infusion is a way to think about who, what, where, when, why, and how all young people can have meaningful roles throughout the places that impact them.

Understood through its parts, Youth Infusion affects three pillars of our lives:

  • Individuals—Every person has their own feelings, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that form their attitudes towards young people.
  • Communities—Geography, proximity, relationships or otherwise define our culture, and every young person is part of at least a few different communities.
  • Organizations—These are formal entities or structures that serve young people include their families, schools, nonprofits, and other organizations.

These three pillars are the basis of Youth Infusion. There are many other aspects to understanding this approach, including Youth in Day-to-Day Operations, Intergenerational Reciprocity, Infusing the ‘Y’ in DEI, and more.

Youth Infusion in YOUR System

There are many layers in systems, and Youth Infusion can happen in every one from the personal level to the community level, and from the community level to the national and international levels – and all points in between!

Are you ready for Youth Infusion in YOUR system? Whether you work in a nonprofit organization, government agency, K-12 school, or run a counseling firm or consulting company, YOU can benefit from Youth Infusion. For more information about moving forward, contact us today!

Adults Pay Close Attention to Their Youth Allies

This citywide network functions more like “a family” which deserves special attention. Why? Because community activists as well as parent organizations are not always successful in building a coalition that also includes the primary stakeholders–students themselves.

482Forward is a collective of neighborhood organizations, parents, and students who attend Detroit charter and public schools. 482 is the prefix for zip codes in Wayne County, populated by many ethnicities, languages, religions, etc.

This citywide network functions more like “a family” which deserves special attention. Why? Because community activists as well as parent organizations are not always successful in building a coalition that also includes the primary stakeholders–students themselves.

The structure provides some clues about this effective intergenerational engine for education justice. Each member organization has a youth organizing hub and an adult ally. These student reps form the 482Forward Youth Collective which has the advantage of students working more autonomously on issues they deem most important and also, students can determine their own pace which can pose a conflict if adults are moving too slowly or perhaps too fast.

Ongoing Adult Openness

The Youth Organizing Director describes this enlightened adult mindset.

Adults are open to learning and changing with youth, for example, there’s an instant desire to get it right with they/them pronouns. They are constantly asking what do youth want to do…Is this in line with what youth are doing?

This attentiveness to 482Forward student leaders was evident following the murder of George Floyd. While some adults wanted to take to the streets, the youth wanted to protest the school-to-prison pipeline that overwhelmingly impacts black and brown students inside their own schools. What began to emerge was the idea of a campaign to defund the Detroit Public Schools’s own Police Department which includes security officers, private security, cameras, alarms, metal detectors, etc. and to reallocate this $33 million policing budget for mental health, including to trauma-trained staff.


Intergenerational Research in Action

In keeping with 482Forward deliberative process for developing a long-term strategy, a research team was composed mainly of students from the 482Forward Youth Organizing Collective along with two adult allies.

  • Survey – Youth developed questions to gauge both students’ and parents’ views. (COVID and the prospective reopening of schools, mental health support during virtual learning, safety in schools, interactions with school police officers, and what an improved school experience would look like).
  • Focus Groups – 800 participated in youth-led listening sessions or completed the survey over two months.
  • Data Analysis – Together the youth and adult team conducted a thematic analysis of the qualitative data and disaggregated it from the quantitative data to see detect overlaps in responses from the survey and listening sessions.

The data generated specific Invest/Divest demands including using the school police budget for more counselors, social workers, nurses, de-escalation training, restorative justice, conflict resolution training, etc. At this juncture, students, supported by parents and community supporters, organized protests at the Board of Education and Superintendent’s Office.

One concrete win is the Detroit Board of Education agreed to create a Police Oversight Committee to investigate public complaints about its Police Department and officers. This interim decision strengthens the resolve of the Invest/Divest organizers and this intergenerational teamwork.

The commitment from our elders to the engagement and support of the youth has never once wavered, which is what makes the foundation of this network so unique. Our slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us” reflects that sentiment perfectly. The youth are the key players in this game, and we can’t take any steps forward without their consent, leadership and partnership. 

– Dillon Cathro, 482Forward Director of Youth Organizing

Another success factor to note is this very diverse coalition makes certain its budget has the funds to compensate the student leaders for their time.

Can you recommend other organizations like 482Forward that we can profile and highlight the secrets and structures that produce genuine youth-adult collaboration? 

WITH = New Word of the Year

Like a tiger ready to pounce, several dozen youth-run organizations are demanding the Biden-Harris administration ditch tokenistic efforts of the past and build deep relationships WITH the rising generations–precisely what we call Youth Infusion.

Like a tiger ready to pounce, several dozen youth-run organizations are demanding the Biden-Harris administration ditch tokenistic efforts of the past and build deep relationships WITH the rising generations precisely what we call Youth Infusion. 

The YouthinGov proposal outlines succinctly: 

The Problem: “The systemic lack of sustained, youth-specific roles and Young Americans across the federal government limits young people’s agency…It was found that the consistency of youth-inclusive programming across departments has been largely dependent upon individuals and subject to turnover.”  

The Solution: “Young Americans are important stakeholders for every issue —and the need for formalized youth engagement work across agencies is pivotal to ensure the authentic engagement and advancement of the nation’s youngest constituency.”

Specific demands include the appointment of a Director of Youth Engagement, preferably a member of Generation Z, to oversee the Office for Young Americans and also sit on the Domestic Policy Council and engage with the National Security Council. 

This detailed blueprint is buttressed by a complementary proposal seeking institutional partnership WITH the U.S. Department of Education authored by the national nonprofit, Student Voice.  (Watch powerful 2/8/21 press conference.)

We really recommend reading these two carefully constructed and comprehensive documents. WITH needs to replace doing “to” and “for” citizens, constituents, clients, consumers, etc.  

Never has the preposition WITH been emphasized both by young people as well as elder statesmen like David Mathews, who served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the 1970s. He knows the individual and institutional dilemmas of bureaucrats collaborating with ordinary citizens but believes in “essential symbiosis.” In WITH the People, Mathews does not focus on any age group but he zeroes in on relationships which certainly are crucial when working WITH young people.

“And opening doors may have more to do with the character of relationships between citizens and institutions and the spirit in which collaboration occurs than it does with changes in organizational structure.”

Unlike efforts in prior administrations, these #YouthinGov represent a more diverse constituency, have experience dealing WITH bureaucrats, and can sniff out fake youth engagement. Will the White House and federal agencies respond to this call to embed young people throughout government?

This is why we believe…

A new operating system is necessary–especially when collaborating WITH minors. Even the involvement of young adults will demand a seismic shift in the minds of policy experts and other professionals.

Note: We want to share this comment we received by David Mathews, author of WITH the People and President & CEO of the Kettering Foundation: I am pleased to see that you’ve chosen WITH as your word of the year. The strategy of government working with the people—young people in this case—is important, not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because young people can do and make things that will allow government to do its work more effectively. When young people join forces to work together, they generate power. And that kind of power isn’t power over, it’s power with.

Our Youth Infusion workshop covers all aspects of achieving WITH. We hope you will contact us about our professional development training and consulting for government agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Youth in Day-to-Day Operations

These public health professionals respected and relied on the wisdom of teens. They knew firsthand the unique influence and power of youth not only with their peers but parents, policymakers, politicians, and the press.

“I don’t interact with youth much at all.”

This is a common refrain we hear from seasoned professionals and veteran advocates, especially those who concentrate on issues that directly impact children and adolescents.

Imagine an organization where the primary stakeholders join the adults in day-to-day operations. It has happened!

Youth Impact on Organizational Culture

In the case of one high impact nonprofit, more than half the paid staff were under 18. The staff ratio: usually hovering around 10 adults to 25 teen employees, most from historically marginalized communities.  Youth staff were not relegated to limited roles but infused in all aspects of this nonprofit:

  • researching issue areas;
  • helping conceptualize and write grant proposals;
  • developing advocacy strategies for local or statewide initiatives;
  • creating social media campaigns;
  • leading process to recruit, interview and hire new youth; and
  • participating in interviews for prospective adult staff.

In the main office of Youth Empowered Solutions! (YES!) in Raleigh, North Carolina, I saw worn bean bag chairs, unframed posters, and other evidence where young staff ‘lived’ several days a week after school.

During my roundtable discussion, the lively atmosphere and banter contrasted with the thousands of meetings I’ve experienced. I felt like the adult staff at YES! were imbued with dare I say… JOY.

My experience and intuition would lead me to conclude this job satisfaction and spirit are linked to their close collaboration with their young colleagues. This mindset is described by Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas:

 “We discovered that every one of our geezers who continues to play a leadership role has one quality of overriding importance: neoteny. Neoteny is the retention of all those wonderful qualities that we associate with youth: curiosity, playfulness, eagerness, fearlessness, warmth, energy…Neoteny is a metaphor for the quality-the gift-that keeps the fortunate of whatever age focused on all the marvelous undiscovered things to come.”

Geeks & Geezers: How Era, Values and Defining Moments Shape Leaders (2002)

The co-founders of this nonprofit had extensive experience collaborating closely with teens, notably fighting Big Tobacco in North Carolina–the top state producer of this lethal product.

These public health professionals respected and relied on the wisdom of teens. They knew firsthand the unique influence and power of youth not only with their peers but parents, policymakers, politicians, and the press. 

Organization Outcomes

Over the past decade, Youth Empowered Solutions! has employed more than 100 young people from all across North Carolina, and empowered thousands of youth from 25 states. This intergenerational advocacy engine is credited with changing hundreds of policies and systems to address racial inequities and adolescent health disparities ranging from food deserts to dental care. As co-founder Katie Spears Warner describes:

The role of young people contributed to a more cohesive team, reduced burnout and attrition among adult staff. There was this sense of family and belonging and we were dedicated to the work and to one another. When you are supporting the growth and development of young people, while also committing to the humanity of people and racial equity-the experience is nurturing and healing in many ways.

I would make the assumption that is why many of the YES! founding adult staff stay for a decade and the youth staff stay connected well beyond high school years, through college or the workforce and into their adult livesoftentimes still connecting today to their former Adult Leads.
 

Now YES! has evolved into YES! for Equity and officially is operating as part of the Atlanta-based Partnership for Southern Equity. Learn more about this exciting organizational development from my long-term colleague Katie Warner (KWarner@psequity.org). 

Our workshop teaches the essential skills for adults to adapt to this new power dynamic which includes making it the norm to interact with the rising generation. For more details, please contact us!