Youth Engagement Can Save The World!

Olympia Youth Forum 2014

Children and youth worldwide are making powerful, positive transformation happen right now. At this exact moment, young people are transforming communities, shifting education, moving social services, challenging governments, and building economies in so many ways, so many places, and for so many reasons it can be hard to summarize them. Because of all these purposes, passions, processes and outcomes, its not hyperbole to declare Youth Engagement Can Save The World!

Youth engagement is what occurs anytime young people choose the same things over and over again. It can happen cognitively, emotionally, culturally, educationally or otherwise; it can be intentional or coincidental; predictable or unexpected; “good” or “bad.” Youth engagement does not require adult acceptance.

Starting with hard times, this year has become kind of enthralling for me. After two years of working with an awesome team of dedicated staff and impassioned volunteers, my board of directors with Generation YES (Youth and Educators Succeeding) decided to permanently close the nonprofit in February. It was a hard blow connecting individually with each of the teachers and districts who were involved to personally let them down after 25 years in some places. Alas, the pandemic was a beast that throttled even the best, and that nonprofit was one of them.

Rising from those ashes though, I have found my own wings expanding and growing wider than ever.

Over the course of the spring, I completed a project with CHOICE Regional Health Network in Olympia, Washington, to infuse youth voice in prevention programming. Working with more than 300 youth, I facilitated focus groups in a half-dozen communities in southwest Washington state. This is a relatively remote region suffering a prolonged economic decimation brought about by the timber and fishing industries. Talking with young people in middle and high schools, as well as dropouts and emancipated minors, I learned a lot about the conditions that support them to best stay healthy in mind and body, and to work with adults as partners. There were a lot of powerful lessons that included how to hold space for transparency by youth, and how to encourage young people to use the resources innate within them and around them to stay centered, grounded, and aware of their wholeness.

During that same time period, I consulted with a local nonprofit in Maryland called SHIP of Frederick County. SHIP has been working hard over the last seven years to support homeless young people in their area. Facing the reality that their programming was adult-led, adult-driven, and ultimately adult-oriented, the organization came to me to explore how flip that script and become youth-led, youth-driven and youth-oriented. This led to a comprehensive organizational assessment followed by professional development, staff and youth strategic planning, and the re-configuration of organizational leadership. Learning in this project focused on fostering humility within adult leaders and staff of the organization, and how to help adults face adultism graciously and in-motion while they work every single day.

Working with these communities and people reminded me I have a lot to learn, I’ve learned a lot, and there continues to be a lot of room to grow. Stay tuned as I keep untying the complex knot that is social change led by and with young people around the world. Stay with me as I keep learning that Youth Engagement Can Save The World!

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