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

10 Reasons to Work with Young Researchers to Generate Solid Data

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

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

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

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

10 Reasons for YPAR

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

Formidable Skills Produce Pertinent Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Model and Motive

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

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

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.

“Intergenerational” Becoming More Widespread

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

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

Clues of Change

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

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

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

Evidence of Change

Two important reports reveal this trend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

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

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

Funders + Donors Judge Your Constituent Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources:

Graphic credit: Charity Navigator

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

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!