Intergenerational Reciprocity

How often does the CEO and Co-Founder boast that his position stated on his employment contract is Executive Assistant to Generation Z?

How often does the CEO boast that his position stated on his employment contract is Executive Assistant to Generation Z? Josh Thompson of Civics Unplugged is unequivocal about his subordinate role in this youth-serving organization. 

Here are some revealing highlights from Baratunde’s How To Citizen podcast with Executive Assistant Thompson and 17-year-old Civics Unplugged Steering Committee member Zoë Jenkins. This interview shows how adults with impressive credentials in education, law, business, etc. truly toss the reins to their younger colleagues. This unusual power shift results in dynamic intergenerational reciprocity.

  • ENGAGE IN RADICAL COLLEGIALITY: “There’s lots of wisdom. [Josh and other] Administrative Assistants give a lot of feedback, advice and help. All the Co-Founders are mentors but we also are just friends. Young people get to have that relationship where you rely on them and they rely on you. It’s been a really transformational experience.” – Zoë
  • REVERSE ROLES: “Other civic engagement work is kid-light advisory. We are kid-heavy. They cannot flip the switch and make that culture change organizationally overnight.” – Josh 
  • BELIEVE THERE’S NO MINIMUM AGE FOR IDEATION: “We don’t want to be treated like we are 30 because we’re not 30 but to be given the same value for our opinions and what we know. Obviously we don’t have the same wisdom as someone who has lived much longer but our ideas do not have less merit. It just means we may need more support from intergenerational partners to operationalize those ideas.” – Zoë
  • DEBATE BRAVELY: “[My] role at Civics Unplugged is to pick fights with the kids that I consistently lose. It’s one of the funnest things but that dialogue is super important. The launch of Civics 2030 was my first fight and made me roll my eyes. I’ve been in politics, government and public service and how many superintendents put out a 3-year strategy or 5-year turnaround plan. Here we go recreating a generation that ends up with a whitepaper on the shelf and get dusty…Nope, this is an actionable 10-year plan.”  – Josh
  • OVERCOME ‘MINOR’ OBSTACLES: “The real beauty of Josh and the rest of others Co-Founders is they have a lot of value but a huge value is they are over the age of 18 and they can sign contracts for us.” – Zoë
  • FIND THE MONEY: “Other nonprofits and political campaigns wanted access to our kids [Fellows]. They want them to be interns to run product, social media campaign, think about how to engage youth but that’s a leadership position not an internship. But [they say] we don’t have the budget and so we [Civics Unplugged] will chip in…We are investing capital directly into these projects.” – Josh 

Let us know how this multi-racial intergenerational organization inspires you. Contact us for details about our workshops and consulting on how to begin the pursuing systemic change at your organization.

P.S. Nominate high school students or encourage them to apply to the Civics Unplugged 2021 Fellowship @ https://www.civicsunplugged.org/apply

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Youth on Governing Boards

The pinnacle of power often centers on a nonprofit’s Board of Directors. The data show that only 21.4 percent of these key governing roles are held by people of color–not much change from the BoardSource’s survey way back in 1994. A commitment to representation that reflects our increasingly younger and more diverse population is one of the transformative shifts needed to replace White Supremacy.

Anecdotal evidence reveals that young people who serve on boards contribute in significant ways such as strategic planning and also change the culture. The CEO of one environmental education nonprofit claims the high school students, who are treated as equals on the Board, often surpass the adults in their serious attention to the Board of Directors handbook, their careful analysis of budgets along with penetrating questions. Another executive director credits young people not only making Board meetings more fun but causing older members to follow through. If you’re interested, you can learn more about youth as board members from the Freechild Institute »

One student position on a local school board remains an anomaly. Even then, these high school reps have only an advisory role. It took 38 years to get legislation through the Maryland Statehouse to allow the Student Member of the Montgomery County Board of Education to be able to vote on the hiring of the Superintendent, capital and operating budgets, collective bargaining, school closings, COVID re-openings, and boundaries. Montgomery County is the 16th largest school district in the country. It seems totally out of whack that the primary stakeholders–those in the classroom–are outnumbered. Imagine if AARP had eight trustees under 25 and only one over age 50.

“Students are the most valuable and least consulted education policy experts in America.”

Amanda Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World

But most adults would not agree with Ripley as explained in typically colorful language by my colleague, Adam to Education Week last year: 

“Some adults talk to me about the inmates running the asylum. It’s this fear, this concern that kids don’t know what’s best for themselves, and as adults we have the best experience and knowledge.”

Adam Fletcher, June 11, 2019

Minors and young adults serving as reps or directors signal an institutional shift that has the potential to accelerate the snail’s pace of achieving diversity on nonprofit boards. 

P.S. To build a truly multi-racial intergenerational organization, youth also need to be involved not on a monthly or quarterly basis but interacting regularly with staff, otherwise known as Youth Infusion.

Do you agree with Adam about “the inmates”? We are eager to hear your reactions – please share them in the comments section!

Infuse ‘Y’ in DEI

It’s time to embed young people in these organizations to actually increase diversity, to actually practice inclusion and the most challenging, to actually share power to achieve equity.

The National Council of Nonprofits drives home the question: “Does your nonprofit create opportunities to listen to the voices directly from community, grassroots, or young leaders in low-income, under-served and/or marginalized populations within its community?” The answer often falls to a vice-president or team charged with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Apart from token engagement, youth-serving institutions do not practice what they preach given the exclusion of this entire age group. 

It’s time to embed young people in these organizations to actually increase diversity, to actually practice inclusion and the most challenging, to actually share power to achieve equity. This is distinct from a youth advisory committee or an internship program. As we all know, it is an unfair burden and an impossible task to ask a few young people to represent their generation—the most diverse in history.

Expanding DEI

  • Diversity – representing many young people of color and multiple identities
  • Equity – redistributing power and engaging in real shared decision-making
  • Inclusion – respecting a broad range of perspectives by youth of many racial and socio-economic backgrounds

This process of infusing the ‘Y’ in DEI does not and should never happen overnight. Serious organizational commitment to create an intergenerational culture by senior staff and the board is a prerequisite. Just as those in charge of DEI trainings for the entire staff—especially to address systemic racism—workshops also need to pull back the curtain and interrupt individual and institutional biases about youth as well as confront adultist attitudes.

Youth don’t have the academic or professional credentials but by virtue of their station in life and firsthand knowledge about their peers, rarely are young people privy to the circle of strategizing and decision making. Equitable inclusion of diverse youth seems only just. In fact, ‘justice’ is being added to DEI which, as Richard Leong with Act to Change suggests, could translate into a more catchy acronym: JEDI.

What do you think about incorporating both the ‘J’ and ‘Y’ in DEI? Please reach out to us to learn more.

Graphic: League of Women Voters of Delaware

Self-Care for Youth & Adult Allies

Whether you are younger or older, here are some points you can learn to help with your self-care.

If you are engaging in youth infusion during the pandemic, you might be affected by online activities differently than other people in your family or organization, including other youth and adults, too!

Youth and adult allies need to take care of their mental health, social health, emotional health and physical health. Since people involved in youth infusion can feel more responsibility than many others, we need to be intentional about taking care of ourselves.

Whether you are younger or older, here are some points you can learn to help with your self-care.

1. Watch Your Thinking

Online activities can be isolating for everyone, and being apart from youth and adults can be hard. Adults—including youth workers, teachers, nonprofit leaders and others—should reinforce to young people that they need to maintain their friendships and other relationships. We should do that too! It is actually an important way to develop and build lifelong communication skills, and can also make stressful situations a little more bearable.

Youth and adults should learn together to…

  • Listen to your self-talk. You should give yourself credit for building youth infusion and not be too self-critical
  • Keep things in perspective, try not to gossip, get the facts, and assume the best intent when possible
  • Acknowledge to themselves and others when things are weird, whether during the pandemic or otherwise
  • Remember changing to online activities can be hard work for yourself, and remember that nobody should be expected to get everything right
  • Its essential to take breaks when needed

2. Keep In Touch

Youth infusion can be hard on emotional and mental health, especially when we’re working online! It is common for both youth and adults to feel more depressed or anxious during conference calls, video trainings, or other online activities, especially during the pandemic. Many people are still figuring out how to adjust to programs, learning and activities that requires so much self-motivation. This can make young people and adults feel guilty or stressed for not infusing youth enough into their organizations, movements or lives. 

Adults and youth should learn together that…

  • Communication and collaboration makes the distance feel less distant between partners, including young people and older people
  • It’s important for youth and adults to take time to do things with people other than youth infusion activities. They should know that living youth infusion all the time can make it hard to separate from non-infused life from the rest of life
  • Many young people and adults are dealing with similar hard things in online activities, and they aren’t alone

3. You’re Not Alone

It can be boring and feel repetitive to be on the computer for every interaction with youth and adults. Learning we’re not alone, even if we’re one our own at home during the day, is important for youth infusion.

Youth and adults should learn to…

  • Talk to other people—including other students and adults—about what they’re struggling with and how they are taking action
  • Find hobbies, ways to relax, and healthy places to process difficult feelings brought on by youth infusion, whether online or in-person
  • Be encouraged to focus on the positives as much as possible

4. Move Your Body

Sitting in front of a screen all day is hard on your eyes and your whole body. Feeling responsible for youth infusion can add to those difficulties. Remember that, even though young people and adults are exercising our minds throughout the day, our bodies needs care too. In addition to helping with learning, moving can help with mental and emotional challenges too. Things like stress and depression can affect the body in physical ways too.

Youth and adults should learn to…

  • Stretch, take walks and breaks, and get outside if they can
  • Pay attention to posture and go easy on their backs
  • Keep a routine with things like food, sleep, etc.
  • Exercise to release toxic thoughts and stress, whether its simple or complicated activity


These are just a few thoughts about what young people and adults should learn about self-care. What would YOU add?

How Old is Youth Infusion?

It still doesn’t seem radical for youth-serving organizations to involve the very people they serve in decisions from setting priorities, designing programs, evaluating services to pursuing systems change.

Nearly 20 years ago, I coined the term Youth Infusion. This concept emerged at a retreat organized by the Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development at the National 4-H Center.

Back then and even now it does not seem radical for youth-serving organizations to involve the very people they serve in decisions from setting priorities, designing programs, evaluating services to pursuing systems change.

My idealism endures. One reason for optimism is senior level professionals at youth-serving organizations recognize another special level of power among the rising generation. Their influence and impact challenges the primary rationale of intergenerational engagement that is only anchored to positive youth development (PYD).

Could it be that adults and organizations also benefit from sustained collaboration with Generation Z? 

This 2002 conference that remains a vivid memory produced Youth in Decision-Making: A Study on the Impacts of Youth on Adults and Organizations which spells out four key advantages for Youth Infusion.

  1. Adults experienced the competence of youth first-hand, and began to perceive young people as legitimate, crucial contributors to organizational decision-making processes.
  2. Working with youth served to enhance the commitment and energy of adults to the organization.
  3. Adults felt more effective and more confident in working with and relating to youth.
  4. Adults came to understand the needs and concerns of youth, and became more attuned to programming issues, making them more likely to reach outside the organization to share their knowledge and insights. They gained a stronger sense of community connectedness.

Which advantages stand out to you? What other benefits would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments!