Essential Questions in Youth Involvement

I’m often asked for answers by folks who want to know exactly what to do. As many of my readers know, I don’t really give answers though. Instead, I’m a critical examiner, constantly asking questions and deconstructing answers that have been given.

Following are some essential questions I ask about youth involvement.

Step 1: Identify Why Youth Involvement
  • Have youth identified if they want to be meaningfully involved? If so, why do youth want to be meaningfully involved? If not, why not?
  • Have adults identified why they want to meaningfully involve youth ? If so, why do adults want youth to be meaningfully involved? If not, why not?
  • Is meaningful youth involvement seen as a learning tool? Is it being utilized as a pathway for youth to successfully meet their goals in life?
Step 2: Identify HOW Youth Will Be Involvement
  • What specific duties/tasks/assignments will youth have?
  • How will adults be involved?
  • How does meaningful youth involvement relate to the community at large?
  • How does meaningful youth involvement relate to formal organization or community activities?

Step 3: Figure out WHO Will Be Involved
  • Is the activity for traditionally or non-traditionally involved youth? If it is for non-traditionally involved youth, how will their involvement be ensured? How will it be sustained?
  • Is there equal representation from across the organization/group/community of youth targeted?

Step 4: Name WHAT Youth Will Be Involved In
  • Have clear goals or a distinct purpose been identified for youth to be meaningfully involved in?
  • Are there parameters for youth? Do they have complete autonomy, or are the roles for youth clearly defined ahead of their involvement?
  • Is there a distinct plan for educating, reflecting and assessing youth involvement?

Step 5: Identify WHEN Youth Involvement Will Happen
  • Is the activity in-class, during a pre-existing program time, during the school day, right after school, in the evening, on the weekends, or during a school break?
  • What accommodations have been made in order to acknowledge the specific nuances of youth schedules, i.e. homework, transportation, lost program time, etc?
  • How often will meaningful involvement occur within the youth’s life as a youth? During one day? Throughout a week? In a quarter or semester? Throughout one school year? Beyond?

Step 6: Say WHERE Youth Will Be Involved
  • Are youth meaningfully involved in their local community in other places?
  • Who controls the environments where meaningful youth involvement will occur? How do they affect meaningful youth involvement?
  • Do youth have opportunities to become meaningfully involved throughout their communities in other ways? Why or why not? How?
These are some of the essential questions. What else would YOU ask?
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Possibilities and Hope

This is my second liveblog from the Generation WakingUp gathering in Seattle. At the close of the first day’s session, I had the opportunity to remember why I enjoy working with children and youth so much: possibilities and hope.

The day was filled with wonderful activities that were excited, focused, and energetic. Joined by facilitators from Power of Hope, the event brought in more than 40 young people and adult allies from throughout Seattle, across the Northwest, and a few other places. The facilitators, led quietly by Joshua Gorman, did a great job of leading the diverse group of participants and maintaining a space that was driven towards connection and interaction. I was impressed by the smooth facilitation, clearly the product of a well-versed team.

The space that was created was centered on social change and spirituality, the kind of versed balance brought through the informed perspective of very attuned people. Alas, it was informed by the Awakening the Dreamer program of the Pachamama Alliance. The good intention of Awakening the Dreamer, “an interactive transformational workshop that inspires participants to play a role in creating a new future: an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on this planet”, is echoed throughout the Generation WakingUp event so far, except with a more dynamic presentation. Its exciting to me. That it focuses on creating new stories and storytelling only takes it all to another level.

The entire evening ended with a large group reflection on the attributes of young people today. Remember that part of the excitement here for me is that I get to participate, rather than facilitate. After a few people spoke, I shared an observation I heard last month in Miami, which is that youth today are a generation of hope. Raised with “hope” as a slogan during the last presidential campaign, young people today have internalized the breadth of the internet and the demands of service learning they were exposed to in high school. Rather than being faced with the dichotomous headspinning of the media in the 1990s as they alternately labeled youth slackers and superpredetators: with we weren’t ambitious enough, or too ambitious!

Alas, I raised the word “hope” as an attribute of young people today, and quickly that words resonated through the room. I then connected it to the word “possibilities”, which together represent my broadest expectation and design for youth today: That they maintain hope in and for the radical possibilities ahead of us.

I know there’s more ahead, and luckily, I know the generation present has the where with all to take us to that space.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Supportive Environments for Youth

safeandsupportiveenvironsCreating a safe and supportive environment is essential for engaging students in a community service program, organization, or throughout a community. The environment includes everything around youth, including the culture, structures, and climate of the organizations they volunteer in and learn from. The vast majority of programs, organizations or communities that seek to engage youth as volunteers are adult-driven, which makes it vital for adults to work with youth to create these environments, rather than assume that they must do all the work.
  • Climate is the way people behave, their attitudes and feelings within a program, organization or throughout a community.
  • Structure includes the responsibilities, systems, authority and relations that allow a program, organization or community to perform its functions.
  • Culture includes the attitudes, values, beliefs, and typical patterns of relationships, behavior, and performance that characterize the program, organization, or community.
The following are essential elements in creating a safe and supportive environment for youth community service.


  • There is a general sentiment among the majority of adults and youth that engaging youth is a key to success.
  • Adults in believe that engaging youth in a variety of roles is important and possible.
  • Youth and adults acknowledge their mutual investment, dedication, and benefit, and it is made visible in relationships, practices, policies, and organizational culture.
  • Adults do not talk about youth in the third person or otherwise act as if youth are not present, when in fact they are.
  • Student volunteerism is validated and authorized through adults’ regular acknowledgement of their ability to improve programs, organizations and schools.


  • The voices, strengths, talents, actions and achievements of youth are continuously focused on in our program, organization or community, and are infused throughout all components of all activities.
  • Important activities focused on youth are done with youth, including research, planning, teaching, evaluation, decision-making and advocacy.
  • Before any activities in which they’re engaged youth have opportunities to learn about the issues, agendas, politics and processes they are going to participate in.
  • Programs and organizations have made youth part of plans, activities and evaluations, and young people have contributed throughout the process.
  • Student volunteers incorporated into ongoing, sustainable activities throughout the group, organization or community.
  • Student volunteers are encouraged and supported to invite other young people or adult allies to support them.
  • The voices of youth of all ages are engaged throughout the program, organization or community.


  • Youth feel comfortable asking for clarification of acronyms, definitions, concepts, or asking critical questions about assumptions, activities and other components.
  • Youth are never lectured about their behavior, attitudes, input or other perceptions adults may have of them. Instead, adults and youth are treated as equal partners, each with valuable contributions to make to the program, organization or community.
  • Issues addressed by student volunteers are not limited to so-called “youth issues”; instead, youth are seen and treated as members of the entire community. “Their” issues are the community’s issues, and the communities issues are theirs.

Let me know what you think! And for more information about support environments see the Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit at

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Youth Volunteerism Links

Want to learn more about what children and youth are doing to make a different in the world around them? Check out the following websites!  Every program here is part of a broad international movement promoting youth volunteering, action, and empowerment.  
Child Friendly Cities (CFC) – A UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre initiative that focuses on youth involvement throughout communities. The website is a tool for exchanging information, sharing data and networking among communities around the world. Users can access information about the activities, objectives and methodologies of CFC projects, links with CFC partners and examples.
The Freechild Project – Seeks to connect young people to social change efforts around the world. Freechild highlights thousands of organizations, publications, websites, and resources from hundreds of topic areas focused on youth involvement.

McCreary Center – Their youth participation and youth action initiatives provide a variety of resources. Located in McCreary, British Columbia, the Center features unique tools and more.
SoundOut – Promotes student voice in schools through an online portal that provides examples, research, publications, discussion forums, and organizations to students, educators, and others.
TakingITGlobal – An online community made of more than 100,000 young people around the world. These youth collaborate on projects, express themselves, and participate in vibrant discussions about technology, involvement, and democracy online.
Teens as Community Builders – Highlights accomplishments of young people across the United States by telling stories of youth who are doing positive things to improve their communities.
Voices of Youth – A UNICEF project that encourages young people around the world to become positively involved in their communities.
What Kids Can Do – Features stories from students across the United States who are leading community and school change projects.
Youth Voice and Engagement – This comprehensive web portal is a collaboration of several partnerships and agencies in New York State, including the NYS Partnership for Children, the ACT for Youth Upstate Center of Excellence (UCE), and the ACT Downstate Center for Excellence. There are hundreds of publications, programs and other tools for Youth Voice practitioners.

Find more links about youth volunteerism at

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

New Roles for Youth Volunteers

It’s not just about showing up for the project! With the development of new technology, new learning experiences, and different avenues for participation throughout our communities, young people have assumed, been assigned, and have co-created new roles for youth volunteers. Youth volunteers today have so many others ways they can contribute to our communities. Check out some of these exciting new roles!

Youth as Facilitators – Knowledge comes from study, experience, and reflection. Engaging young people as teachers helps reinforce their commitment to learning and the subject they are teaching; it also engages both young and older learners in exciting ways. 

Youth as Researchers – Identifying issues, surveying interests, analyzing findings, and developing projects in response are all powerful avenues for youth volunteers. 

Youth as Planners – Planning includes program design, event planning, curriculum development, and hiring staff. Youth planning activities can lend validity, creativity, and applicability to abstract concepts and broad outcomes. 

Youth as Organizers – Community organizing happens when leaders bring together everyone in a community in a role that fosters social change. Youth community organizers focus on issues that affect themselves and their communities; they rally their peers, families, and community members for action. 

Youth as Decision-Makers – Making rules in classrooms is not the only way to engage young people in decision-making. Committees, board membership, and other forms of representation and leadership reinforce the significance of youth volunteers throughout communities. 

Youth as Advocates – When young people stand for their beliefs and understand the impact of their voices, they can represent their families and communities with pride, courage, and ability. 

Youth as Evaluators – Assessing and evaluating the effects of programs, classes, activities, and projects can promote youth volunteerism in powerful ways. Young people can learn that their opinions are important, and their experiences are valid indicators of success. 

Youth as Specialists – Envisioning roles for youth to teach youth is relatively easy; seeing new roles for youth to teach adults is more challenging. Youth specialists bring expert knowledge about particular subjects to programs and organizations, enriching everyone’s ability to be more effective. 

Want to learn more about new roles for youth volunteers? Check out the Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit at
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Connecting Learning and Service

Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. You can use your school’s current community service requirement to connect service with learning! If your school doesn’t have a requirement, you can connect service and learning in your own classroom. Here are some examples:

Elementary children in Florida studied the consequences of natural disasters. The class designed a kit for families to use to collect their important papers in case of evacuation with a checklist, tips about rescuing pets, and other advice to make a difficult situation easier, which students distributed to community members.

Middle school students in Pennsylvania learned about the health consequences of poor nutrition and lack of exercise, and then brought their learning to life by conducting health fairs, creating a healthy cookbook, and opening a fresh fruit and vegetable stand for the school and community.

Girl Scouts in West Virginia investigated the biological complexity and diversity of wetlands. Learning of the need to eliminate invasive species the scouts decided to monitor streams, presented their findings to their Town Council to raise awareness of the issues concerning local wetlands.

Community service is volunteer action taken to meet the needs of others and better the community as a whole. Service-learning is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of students engaged in service, or the educational components of the community service program in which the participants are enrolled. The most important feature of effective service-learning programs is that both learning and service are emphasized.

You can learn more about service learning from many great resources at

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Reconsidering the Summer of Service

The White House is announcing the 2009 Summer of Service in conjunction with the Corporation for National and Community Service within a week. The first summer of service happened in the 1960s in honor of the vision of President Kennedy, who sought to build a culture of service among American youth. There was a lull in interest from the original Summer of Service all the way into the 1990s, when the resurgence of interest in national service led to many half-baked attempts to replicate the original event. The most popular was probably President Clinton’s original event in 1994, launching AmeriCorps, the National Civilian Community Corps, and re-invigorating the Senior Corps and VISTA. Senator Edward Kennedy worked with the White House to re-envision this historic mechanism, the largest issue being the inherent unsustainability of single-event service promotion. That’s why the White House is emphasizing communities across the country using the Summer of Service as a launching plan to engage entire communities in sustainable service throughout the year.
While the emphasis is on community-wide engagement, I’m concerned that the reality is that youth will continue to provide the brunt of the labor force for this endeavor. It is good that youth serve their communities. The concept of service is vital for the health of democracy. The absence of education about how and why that is the case is disconcerting, but the main dilemma I identify in the Summer of Service is that reality about the disproportion between youth serving and adults serving: raising a generation that cares, that feels commitment towards the greater good of society has led to a kind of bottleneck situation in many of our communities. The burden of proof has been placed on the shoulders of the youngest among us to prove the value of service, and for the most part the whole of society has failed to see that.
Truly a community organizer, I believe President Obama should seriously consider and reconsider its strategy for engaging parents, families and the broader community in service. Youth participation is a given in the climate of national service today; let’s address the real gap in service among Americans today by focuing on engaging adults in service and building their ethic of service. By doing this the national service community can go further than its history and truly build a culture of service that supports lifelong service and community engagement.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!