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.

UPDATE West Virginia v. EPA decision:

Our Children’s Trust issued a news release on 6/30/22 that the US Supreme Court’s ruling to limit the Environmental Protection Agency regulatory authority over carbon dioxide pollution does not affect its federal or state youth-led climate lawsuits.

If anything, today’s ruling further demonstrates how important these children’s constitutional climate lawsuits are to address the deadly effects of our government-sanctioned fossil fuel-based energy system.

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

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 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.

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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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 practice 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 practice 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

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.