Differences Between YDP and Traditional Youth Programs

As long as community work specifically focused on youth has existed, adults have been designing, facilitating, and evaluating it. However, over the last twenty-some years, many nonprofits, schools, and government agencies have discovered the reward of fostering youth voice throughout throughout their operations affecting youth. Years of research and best practice have led to the development of a model to foster the growth of this activity, and it is called Youth-Driven Programming.

What’s The Difference? 

This selection is from The Freechild Project
Youth-Driven Programming Guide for Action.

Youth-Driven Programming, or YDP, is different from traditional youth programming in many ways. The differences become apparent in the premises or assumptions behind the program to the activities youth do to the funding the program receives and the ways it is evaluated. There are distinct differences.

The primary ways traditional youth program models treat youth are in their focus. Most either see youth as receptacles, recipients, informants, and promoters. As receptacles, activities and ideas treat youth as empty containers who bring nothing relevant to the program, instead needing to have everything given to them from the time they walk through the door. As recipients, youth are treated like customers who simply walk through the door, consume what they choose, and walk away with their needs met. When they’re treated like informants, youth tell adults what they want to hear and leave adults satisfied because they believe they know what youth want, think, or know. The other popular way youth are treated in traditional programs is as promoters. When they’re promoters, youth are treated like advertisers and promoters who share the ideas of their programs for adults.

YDP challenges those assumptions by assuming youth can be active partners in programs affecting them and their communities. Programs position participants in many ways, including youth as drivers, facilitators, organizers, and specialists. As drivers, youth are acknowledged for their capacities to motivate and sustain the processes and outcomes they’re targeted with. When they’re involved as facilitators, young people teach, lead, operate, and guide activities by working in equitable ways with adults. Organizing programming comes as second nature to some youth, as they align activities with goals, develop activities and processes for participants, and position the programs in strategic ways to meet the needs of the organization. Finally, as specialists youth have opportunities to develop, implement, and share the expertise, knowledge, and wisdom they’ve established, and to critically examine what is done to them.

The differences in these approaches are vital for understanding the capacity of YDP to change the lives of individual youth, as well as the organizations and larger communities they belong to.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Raising Kids to Change the World

The last nine years of my life have been an active experiment for me. My daughter was born in August 2003, and every day since then she has changed my life. That’s the experience for me. The experiment I’ve been living is one based on emperical and scientific data that I’d collected throughout my young career and research studies associated with my field. My hypothesis was that I could intentionally raise my child to change the world.

When I was young, my parents taught me that we would not be able to change the world if we can not solve the problems in our house or in our neighborhood. If we can not solve the problems that happen in the living room or across the street, how will we change the problems happening across the ocean?

Working with children and youth in a variety of capacities since I was 14, including as a teacher, counselor, organizer, and advocate, I’d come to understand the inherent ability of young people to change the world. As a friend to many parents, I also saw the roles of mothers and fathers in raising children who had the ability to change the world. Between those two primary views, I’d also studied the roles of youth in society in college and did graduate work focused on education. I’d also completed a significant statewide action research study for a state education agency focused on increasing the ways students connected to each other, their educational environments, and the things they were supposed to learn in schools.

Through those experiences I began to understand that my own experience raising kids would focus on changing the world. This would happen through example, conversation, and enacting different forms of social change in my household.

I’m writing today to report that my studies go well.

Intentionally striving to ensure her critical engagement, righteous compassion, and deep knowledge of the world she lives in, at the age of nine my daughter is committed to changing the world around her.

However, this might not be apparent to an outside, quick observation. Depending on the viewer, an outsider may see a curiously imaginative personality whose empathetic knowledge melds well with her interpersonal skills.

From my own view though, that of the (obviously biased) ground-level scientist I am, I will offer this: Through intentional design but without shoving it down her throat, my daughter exhibits a deep understand of injustice and intolerance in the world around her. Her high degree of intuitive empathy has been nurtured through in educational environments where her skills, ability, and knowledge have been grown through design and deliberation. When those haven’t been present, my daughter has been given new opportunities that do meet those goals. At home, she’s exposed to an array of stories, songs, and other opportunities that allow her to interact substantively, meaningfully, and deeply with the notion of changing the world. She is constantly encouraged to share her most critical conceptions and imaginative responses, along with her pragmatic conception of the world she wants to live in.

While she doesn’t wear dreadlocks or wave picket signs, raising my daughter in this way has shown awesome results. She has developed a deep compassion without denial; understood complex situations without shying away from them; and started to create her own uniquely powerful vision of the world as it is, and as it could be.

In the meantime, my life has changed too. I have come to understand the necessity of personal engagement, and I see now the need for the transition of generations to ensure ongoing transformation in our world. As I have grown to create more and better things with my hands, I have seen the need for things to get better and better. Shift happens.

So long as I live, I will never stop being this young woman’s dad. I’ve always said that’s my most important job, and that will always hold true. I believe anyone can do this, with design, hope, intention, and action. It’s just like changing the world, one kid at a time, because it is changing the world. There’s nothing greater that a parent can do.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Are You Tokenizing Youth?

Tokenism happens whenever adults put youth in formal and informal positions without any substance, purpose, or power in order to say they have youth on board. Appointing youth this was is a symbolic gesture towards Youth Voice that is meant to demonstrate youth engagement and appease youth and adult advocates. It is supposed to stop people from complaining.

Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher at http://amzn.to/2noYclH
Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher!

However, tokenism actually reinforces adultism by demonstrating adult power and highlighting young peoples’ inability to do work of substance. Tokenism happens through policy and practice every day. Youth tokenism is so deep in our society that many organizations never know they’re tokenizing youth, and youth don’t know when they’re being tokenized. Because of adultcentrism in our society, young people can often internalize tokenism and not be able to see when it is existent. Its important to teach young people about tokenism and how it can affect them.

Following are 34 signs youth are being tokenized, and 10 ways to stop tokenizing youth. There are also some resources at the end.

34 Signs Youth are Being Tokenized

  1. When issues affecting youth are talked about by adults without asking youth, youth are being tokenized. 
  2. At a meeting it is tokenism when adults consistently ask youth to speak about being a youth.
  3. An organization that will do programs to youth and won’t host programs done by youth is tokenizing youth.
  4. At a youth organization celebration dinner it is tokenism when there are only 10 youth and 1,000 adults.
  5. In a community organization it is tokenism when youth are only interacted with on youth issues. 
  6. In a government agency it is tokenism when youth are told they have a voice and given the way they’re expected to express it.
  7. In a board of directors it is tokenism when youth are put in historically adult positions without the authority and ability adults have.
  8. Adults constantly telling young people about their experiences when they were young people is tokenism. 
  9. When a youth’s busiest times of year are holidays, summer vacation, and youth service days, it is tokenism.
  10. At a conference it is tokenism when adults don’t tell youth directly the purpose of their involvement. 
  11. Throughout a community it is tokenism when adults control who hears, sees, or communicates with youth.
  12. It is tokenism when before youth walk into a meeting, everyone knows there are youth attending without knowing their names, where they’re from, or what school they attend.
  13. During a meeting it is tokenism when one youth is expected to represent all youth.
  14. In an organization, if youth or adults perceive that youth are tokenized and thereby they undermine their abilities, it is tokenism.
  15. When youth are treated as if or told it is a favor and not a right for them to participate in decision-making, it is tokenism.
  16. In a panel, it is tokenism when youth are given little or no opportunity to formulate their own opinions before speaking.
  17. At a forum, it is tokenism when adults give youth time to speak and then ignore what they say.
  18. If one youth speaker speaks at a conference of adult speakers and attendees, it is tokenism.
  19. When 100 youth attend a rally with 10,000 adults it is tokenism when they are pointed out for their attendance, it is tokenism.
  20. In a planning session it is tokenism when adults only invite youth who are not likely to assert themselves, make demands, or complain.
  21. It is tokenism when adults take youth away from regular activities or personal lives without a compelling reason to that young person for being gone. 
  22. If adults choose articulate, charming youth to sit on a panel with little or no substantive preparation on the subject and no consultation with their peers who, it is implied, they represent, it is tokenism.
  23. It is tokenism when adult/youth power imbalances are regularly observed and not addressed in your program or organization.
  24. It is tokenism when community organizations adults don’t use youth knowledge to build the abilities of young people and their communities, instead focusing simply on prevention and intervention.
  25. When adults take a lot of pictures of youth for their website without ever listening to what they have to say, it is tokenism.
  26. If one particular youth is asked over and over to participate in adult activities, it is tokenism.
  27. At a program, organization, or conference it is tokenism when adults seek out one, two, or ten youth as the most famous or as especially expert youth instead of identifying many qualified youth.
  28. When youth-led research is used to back up adult problem-solving without engaging youth in problem-solving, it is tokenism.
  29. It is tokenism when nobody explains to youth how they they were selected for an activity.
  30. When adults allow youth to talk on their organization’s facebook page and not at their board meetings, it is tokenism.
  31. If youth become burned out from participating in historically adult activities, it is tokenism.
  32. If youth think its obvious they have a lack of authority or power or that their authority is undermined by adults, it is tokenism.
  33. If youth don’t understand which young people they are supposed to represent, it is tokenism.
  34. When a group of youth is asked to create something for the community that never leaves the program or organization they’re in, it is tokenism.

Understanding you are experiencing tokenism is challenging, but it is just the beginning. Here are 10 ways to stop tokenizing youth.

10 Ways to Stop Tokenizing Youth

  1. When looking for youth to become involved, choose different youth from a range of identities that demonstrate diversity of experiences and opinions.
  2. Invite a group of youth to work together in your program, organization, or conference. Get them active early in the planning cycle.
  3. Engage youth in a broad array of activities, programs, organizations, and conferences that have fun built into them, but aren’t focused solely on having fun.
  4. Reach out individually to youth too, but not only to youth you personally know.
  5. Provide opportunities for youth to connect with each other outside traditionally adult activities so they can see that they’re not the only youth there, and that they have things in common past their age-based identities.
  6. So it is in the company’s interests to develop women with real talent – winners – and to help them to be the real deal
  7. When giving examples of youth in a particular area, provide a list, not just the single easiest youth you can think of.
  8. Don’t expect youth representatives to speak for all youth: each youth is an individual, and will have their own stories.
  9. Build the capacity of youth to lead their own activities and participate as equitable partners with adults.
  10. When highlighting youth, show a range of them with different interests and skills, preferably non-stereotypical; perhaps interacting with each other.

All issues are youth issues. It is the ethical responsibility of adult allies of young people to acknowledge the capacity of youth to decide which issues are important for them to engage within, and to increase their ability to be successful in their interactions with those issues. 

To learn more about what you can do to end youth tokenism, I strongly encourage you to read Guidelines for the Ethical Engagement of Young People by First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada. It is a powerful, concise, and effective how-to for this work. To find other materials, visit The Freechild Project Reading List featuring Tools for Action with Young People.

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Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher!

More Than Voice: The Cycle of Engagement

The other day I presented a few workshops at the 2012 Bridge Conference in Seattle. One focused focused on my Cycle of Engagement, and was called “More Than Voice: The Cycle of Engagement“. I walked participants through the various ways we can move past understanding Youth Voice as a singular, passive activity, instead engaging young people as partners throughout our programs. We discussed traditional and convenient Youth Voice versus nontraditional and inconvenient Youth Voice, as well as barriers to youth engagement.

Following is the powerpoint presentation I used during the workshop.

Hope you enjoy it! Share any thoughts below?!?

Youth On A Pedestal

There’s a special place where young people are placed in stark contrast to their roles in our daily lives. Typically, young people are segregated from adults, compelled to follow rules and laws they didn’t make, and shown what to do with themselves through advertising, education, family life, and community norms. Nowhere along the way are they treated as full humans, capable of contributing to the larger world around them for their benefit and the benefit of others.

Until they get to that special place of being Youth On A Pedestal.

From there, young people are allowed to step above and beyond their peers. They can glimpse out across the lands and see the places where adults see. Their access grows and they become able to see where their age group peers stand, as well as some adults. With an increased amount of education and opportunity, these young people can grow still more powerful, acting as little adults who are controllers of their fates and masters of their domains.

In this strange upside down kingdom, these children and youth can boss around and manipulate adults to get what they want. They drive conversation, control situations, and seemingly move mountains compared to their peers. With experiences as top performing students, athletes, musicians, scholars, performers, and more, they seem mighty.

Looking up at them isn’t a particularly pleasant experience for all their peers. Sure, some friends hold up the pedestal, putting their backs and hands to the column to ensure their friends’ security. Others step back and stare up in awe, wondering how that kid got that power, while others still throw rocks from the distance and try to knock that youth off their pedestal.

The challenge for Youth Voice programs today is not to foster these particular pedestals for youth. This is called “romanticizing” Youth Voice. It positions young people as speakers at adult conferences; puts students in charge of the school board for a day; makes some youth shine while others throttle, stuck in gear without the resources and attention they need to move forward. Well-meaning adults perpetuate this by making formal youth leadership opportunities distinctly for so-called Youth Leaders. These young people often already have a lot of access to the adult work, and are merely gaining more as their pedestals are made taller.

Solving the crisis of youth pedestalling is going to take more than a blog post. Its going to take a commitment by every adult who works with youth to stop assuming young people need to be held up high above their peers. Instead, we must create opportunities for all children and youth to experience having the spotlight shine on them for who they are, rather than simply how we want them to be.

The real root cause of youth pedestalling is adultism. We, as adults, have distinct ideas about who we want to be around and how we want them to behave, every single one of us. The young people who shine through the morass of youth segregation and demonstrate their effectiveness at being adult-like are generally the ones we place on pedestals. The inverse is true, too: The young people who don’t behave how we want them to become disengaged.

How do you treat children and youth you particularly like or get along with? Do they stand equal to their peers and adults, or do they stand above everyone else? Putting youth on a pedestal does no favors for them, and ultimately undermines your best intentions. Is that what you really want?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Conditions for Youth-Driven Programs

Following is a simple assessment organizations can use to determine whether they really want to create youth-driven programming. I repurposed it from a tool the spectacular Michael Fielding of the University of Sussex originally created for schools, with his permission.

This tool can provide a straight-forward tool for practical conversations in nonprofits, community groups, and other places where adults are consider whether they really want youth to lead. There are four sections, including involvement, skills and attitudes, systems and spaces, organizational culture, and the future.

Conditions for Youth Driven Programs

Adapted by Adam Fletcher from M. Fielding with permission. 


  • Who is involved in Youth Driven Programming? 
  • Why are they involved? 
  • How are they involved? 
  • Which young people are allowed to be involved in driving programming? 
  • Who are they allowed to create programs for? 
  • What are they allowed to create programming focused on? 
  • What language, behaviour, and activities are encouraged and/or allowed? 
  • Who decides the answer to these questions? 
  • How are those decisions made? 
  • How, when, where, to whom and how often are these decisions communicated to young people and adults? 

Skills and Attitudes

  • Are the skills of Youth Driven Programming encouraged and supported through training or other appropriate means? 
  • Are these skills understood, developed and practiced within the context of other democratic values and dispositions? 
  • Are these skills themselves changed or informed by those values and dispositions? 
  • How do the young people and adults involved regard each other? 
  • To what degree are the principle of equal value and the dispositions of care felt reciprocally and demonstrated through the reality of daily encounter? 

Systems and Spaces

  • How often does dialogue and engagement between youth and adults currently happen in the organization and its programs? Who decides? 
  • How do the systems highlighting the value and necessity of Youth Driven Programming mesh with or relate to other activities, especially those involving adults? 
  • What action is taken for Youth Driven Programming? 
  • Who feels responsible for Youth Driven Programming? 
  • What happens if aspirations and good intentions are not realised? 
  • Where are the spaces (physical and metaphorical) in which Youth Driven Programming might take place? Who controls those spaces? 
  • What values shape their being and their use? 
Organizational Culture 
  • Do the cultural norms and values of the organization proclaim the importance of Youth Driven Programming within the context of communities as a shared responsibility and shared achievement? 
  • Do the practices, traditions and routine daily encounters demonstrate values supportive of Youth Driven Programming? 

The Future

  • Do we need new structures for Youth Driven Programming? 
  • Do we need new ways of relating to each other as youth and/or adults? 

CommonAction staff is available to train on Youth-Driven Programming and much more. To talk about the possibilities contact Adam Fletcher by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Types of Youth Experiences

Check out The Freechild Project
page on Resources for Adults at

Adults often think all the different ways we listen to youth voice equal to youth engagement. I believe youth voice is not the same as youth engagement. Young people can be engaged through youth voice experiences, and many others. These types of youth experiences should be clarified before we talk about youth engagement specifically. They are:

  • Youth awareness
  • Youth observation
  • Youth participation
  • Youth involvement

Types of Youth Experiences
I have seen the following types of experiences emerge among youth repeatedly over my 20+ years of youth work. Working with a group of youth at a recent conference, I describe the following four types, including where they most frequently happen.

  • Youth Awareness. The most basic way youth experience anything is through awareness, which is to understand something exists. Employing their mind, most youth awareness happens through exposure, and that is the extent of their experience with it. Youth awareness most frequently occurs through the media, family settings, and social memes
  • Youth Observation. Those who take that a step further use their powers of observation. Different from youth awareness, youth observation happens when young people watch something in a one-way fashion. This can happen through videos, in-person, or any way that moves beyond mere awareness without interaction. Now we are observing it using one of our senses. Youth observation most frequently occurs through the Internet, social and educational settings, and the general public.
  • Youth Participation. From there, experience tilts towards interaction. If youth are passively interested in something, they might become involved with whatever they’re connecting with, moving towards youth participation. This happens when young people start to kinesthetically interact with something. They attempt to alter, move, or otherwise change a thing with their presence, whether by choice or coincidence. Youth participation most frequently happens in school, at home, and in other non-peer driven spaces. 
  • Youth Involvement. When young people decide they deliberately want to interact something, they might look for logical entryways into the system that thing belongs to. In sports, this may mean choosing to join a team; in politics, its becoming a Legislative page or candidate campaigner; in nonprofits, it may mean fundraising or joining a board of directors. This is youth involvement, and it happens whenever a young person intentionally becomes involved in a system. Youth involvement most frequently occurs in youth-driven spaces and social environments.

When young people become sustainably connected to something within or outside themselves, they become engaged. One of the four avenues above must happen before youth engagement occurs; however, none of the above automatically causes youth engagement. The locations of these types of engagement is not mandatory, and all types of engagement can occur within one space, and vice versa. Each of these types of engagement can also affect and be affected by perceptions of youth.

CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

When Will Adults Grow Up?

Today, The New York Times employed the opinions of Laurence Steinberg to answer the question, “When do kids become adults?” My question is about this article is, “When will adults grow up?”

The “reality” of age-based segregation is eroding every day as since continuously shows that both childhood and adulthood are simply made-up constructs that have no practical place in developmental, psychological, or educational practices. Instead, they are political and economic devices used to manipulate the marketplace and governance of our society. Adults need to grow up and see the truth.

I have been conducting a study with The Freechild Project since 2001. My research has centered on my hypothesis that the roles of young people are rapidly transforming throughout society and in turn, the impact of young people is greater than ever before. This is happening because of many things, despite the popular adult conception of youth as incapable. The majority of adults in American society cannot see this because we are too immature, as witnessed in comments in The New York Times article and the vast majority traditional youth studies.

The majority of Steinberg’s argument relies on the tiredly predictable tenets of subjective neurological theorizing. However, he gets to the point when he proclaims, “Alas, age boundaries are drawn for mainly political reasons, not scientific ones.” This is the premise behind much of my teaching about youth engagement. Our political positioning- not in terms of parties or theories, but practices and purposes- determines how we relate to young people.

This is why I teach about convenient and inconvenient youth voice. This is why I teach about traditional and nontraditional youth engagement. Relying on predictability, we chomp at the bit to make sense of the young people we face in our community programs and classrooms every day. Our politics allow us to do this.

However, these same personal politics and shared cultural politics also disallow us from seeing the reality of young people today, let alone the potential of children and youth throughout society. Wanting to make a more subjective case, I have hurled tons of evidence at my students, both young people and adults, over the years. I have waved flags and shared case studies, called out quantitative research and elaborated on findings. None of this has worked.

Steinberg is on the side of expanding our understanding of youth at least. Today, the Times has brought along a group of madhouse advocates and opponents to joust about this question. Joining Steinberg are Kevin Noble Maillard from the Syracuse University College Of Law; Jenny Diamond Cheng, a lecturer at Vanderbilt Law School; John M. Mccardell, who is the president at the University Of The South; Jamie Kitman from Automobile Magazine; Barbara Hofer, who is a professor of psychology at Middlebury College; and Michael Thompson, who is the author of a book called “Homesick And Happy”. (Apparently, absolutely no youth of any kind were available to write on this topic.)

This crew proceeds to push around the question of whether the roles of young people should change in American society. They talk about drinking, driving, and other typical topics that should make the National Youth Rights Association happy. However, never once in a half dozen articles do they consider that the premise of their argument is flawed: The role of young people shouldn’t change because adults want it to, it should be recognized as changing because it already is. We, as adults, are behind the eight ball on this one, just as we’ve been since the political construct of youth was invented in the 1930s and reinforced by marketers starting in the 50s.

We need to join the rest of the world, which increasingly sees youth as the cultural phenomenon it is: A made-up social construct designed to restrain and subjugate people according to their age in order to secure the social, political, cultural, and political roles of people older than them. When we begin to understand this as reality, we can begin to see the roles of youth for exactly what they can be today and in the future. Until then, we’re lost in a construct that actually fails to benefit us as adults, as well as young people themselves.

CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Youth Kicking Butt in 2012 (for Brad)

Across the United States there are a number of innovative youth leadership programs that excite me. I get to interact with them sometimes, and other times I merely study them, read about them, or just hear about them from my friends and colleagues in the field.

For just over a decade, I’ve been working to support an decentralized movement of young people and adults working around the world. This movement has many different guises, including youth-led activism, youth voice, youth mainstreaming, youth engagement, intergenerational partnerships, and youth empowerment. All of them include youth leadership, in all its myriad forms. Another thing they do is center on transforming the roles of young people throughout society, and that has been my main interest, action that actively evolves society.

One of my favorite organizations for early 2012 is the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition. PESC is an entirely youth-led and youth-run organization. They work statewide on issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth. Comprised of leaders from youth-led LGBTQ organizations across Pennsylvania, PESC works in schools and nonprofits to raise LGBTQ young people on the radar. Learn more about them at http://pennsec.org.

Another is School Girls Unite. Wendy Lesko is one of my favorite people in the world. After a long career focused on national advocacy for youth action, she began actively supporting a group of young women in her city in Maryland. School Girls Unite was formed as an organization of students and young women leaders in the United States and in Mali. They quickly became focused on working to advance the U.N. Millennium Development Goals related to gender equality and universal basic education, as well as child marriage prevention and other human rights issues. In late 2011, they succeeded in getting the United Nations to declare that October 11, 2012 will be the first International Day of the Girl Child. Learn more about them at http://dayofthegirl.org.

Catalyst Miami came storming onto Miami’s youth leadership scene this year with the launch of the SoundOut Youth Action Curriculum. I have provided more than 35 hours of training for facilitators of this program, which works in a diverse high school in the city to deliver the capacity-building service learning program for students. Catalyst has tied the program together with their well-established programs focused on parent leadership and children’s leadership, and is seeing excellent results. Find some information at http://commonaction.blogspot.com/2011/10/classroom-characteristics-supporting.html.

The indefatigable Joshua Gorman is behind Generation Waking Up. A global campaign to ignite a generation of young people to bring forth a thriving, just, sustainable world, the organization facilitates powerful training workshops across the country, networking thousands of young people to change the world. Learn more about them at www.generationwakingup.org.

A local organization, the Seattle Young People’s Project (SYPP) is a youth-led, adult-supported, social justice organization that empowers young people (ages 13-18) to express themselves and take action on the issues that affect their lives. They’ve always been a cutting edge model, and this year has been exemplary. Learn more at http://sypp.org.

Through 2010 and ’11, the US Department of Education ran a suave youth engagement program under the deft hand of Alberto Retana. With his guidance, the agency engaged with thousands of young people across the U.S., and actual students were positioned in places of direct consultation to the Secretary of Education and even the President. While Alberto left the agency late last year, the program is continuing on. Its best to learn about it on their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/ED-Youth-Voices/136786839692361?sk=wall.

Honorable mentions in the “2 Kewl 4 School” category PUEBLO, or People United for a Better Oakland, which conducted a powerful youth-led study of high school students in Oakland in 2011 regarding their perceptions of police. The survey is provoking serious conversations in the city about improvement. Information is at http://www.peopleunited.org/cspa/. Another is Students Speak Out, a social network working both online and offline for students influence policy conversations by co-defining public problems and co-creating solutions. They’re after my heart. You can learn more about them at http://www.citizing.org/studentsspeakout/. Also, a big shout-out to Vote 17 Lowell, a youth-led initiative to lower the voting age in Lowell, Massachusetts’s municipal elections to 17 years old. The Vote 17 campaign is unlike any similar past or current bill as it calls for the initiative to appear on Lowell’s local election ballot after full State House approval. Teen organizers are asking that the state legislature allow the voters of Lowell to decide on an issue that has already received full support from all levels of Lowell’s city government and its statehouse delegation. They made huge in 2011, and I’m looking forward to seeing them storm forward in the future. They’re online at http://vote17lowell.tumblr.com/.

Me discussing youth kicking butt wouldn’t be right if I didn’t give props to adults who are actively allying with young people to get the good work done. I want to start by giving mad respect to the Perrin Family Foundation in Connecticut. For more than a few years now they’ve been focused on providing real dollars to youth voice programs across their state that are doing cool, cool things. Check out their strategy at http://www.perrinfamilyfoundation.org/strategy.html. They’ve also been blogging about it, and getting the word out is a significant part of the work. I really like their blog, which is at http://perrinfamilyfoundation.blogspot.com/. (You may have read my recent blog, Foundations Fail Youth By Design. Perrin is completely not included in this analysis.)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the King County Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre. Funded by the Seattle Youth Engagement Zone, I’m partnering with a coalition in Seattle called SOAR to facilitate this learning community for 22 youth engagement experts from across the county. We’re working together to share what we know, figure out what we don’t, and shore up the capability of King County to support substantive youth leadership work far into the future. It rawks.

Worth mentioning, too, is Jessica Taft’s book, Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas. Although it came out in 2010, it really impacted their field in 2011. It tells the powerful story of young women, uniquely positioned agents of social change.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There are literally THOUSANDS of butt-kicking examples of young people changing the world right now all across the country, not to mention the MILLIONS of youth around the world who are doing it. AND IT IS WORKING! This is only a small survey of what I remembered quickly and off the top of my head. Please respond and tell me what I have missed!

Props to all young people of color and low-income youth struggling for leadership, power, and justice across the United States and around the world. I stand with you. Much love to the adult allies who support them. I have great respect for every young person who is deeply committed to changing the world, no matter what their background is. Everyone can be engaged, and that is right. Adults working in partnership with these young people, please keep doing what you do. Finally, here’s a reminder to anyone who has read this far: Get engaged in yourself, first, and seek to engage other people after that. Never the reverse. Learn more.

CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!