Youth Involvement Success Stories

The Freechild Institute Youth Involvement Toolkit

Youth involvement in nonprofits, government agencies, foundations and throughout communities can create powerful examples of democracy in action, successful decision-making, and meaningful outcomes for youth and adults. Here are some success stories Freechild has collected from across the United States. Please share your success stories in the comments and we might include them here!

  • YOUTH INVOLVEMENT IN DEMOCRACY: Youth as Effective Citizens (YEC) effectively engaged youth in decision-making throughout the organization as they successfully advocated for the creation of a new school in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as a youth-run media studio, a youth employment program, a child care center, and a community garden. Additionally, deliberate partnerships between youth and adults led to the construction of a skate park and candidate forums around elections.1
  • YOUTH INVOLVEMENT IN CONFLICT RESOLUTION: Youth of the Lummi Nation in northwest Washington State have been facilitating conflict resolution and peacemaking skills trainings through the Lummi CEDAR Project since the early 2000s. Working closely with tribal elders, young people participate in decision-making throughout the organization as trainers, board directors, staff members and in peer organizing positions. At the same time they are learning important cultural values and connecting with tribal history. Their community organizing has transformed the lives of young people and adults in their community, and has been recognized as a nationally-cited model of how to engage youth in organizational decision-making.2
  • YOUTH INVOLVEMENT IN RECLAIMING PUBLIC RESOURCES: The Los Angeles-based South Central Youth Empowerment Thru Action operates from five high schools in their area of the city. Youth members designed a program that used disposable cameras to document their dilapidated schools and lack of books and computers. They also ran demonstrations, letter writing campaigns and consciousness-raising events. The resulting campaigns successfully reclaimed $153 million that had been allocated to improve LA’s worst schools but was being used on the more affluent West Side to fix pool filters and scoreboards.”3
  • YOUTH INVOLVEMENT IN GOVERNMENT: Manchester, Vermont’s Select Board authorized the appointment of two high school students to each of the town’s boards and commissions, including the Planning Commission, Development Review Board, Design Review Board, Parks and Recreation Committee, Conservation Commission, Energy Committee and the Library Board. Students from the local high school have since served as full voting members of all but two boards, which, for legal reasons, cannot allow minors to vote. Two years later they presented their unique experience in a presentation at the American Planning Association’s annual conference, drawing in more than two-dozen participants from across the country.4
  • YOUTH INVOLVEMENT IN STOPPING ALCOHOL USE: ”The Project Northland Peer Participation Program was implemented in several school districts and adjacent communities in northeastern Minnesota. The program involved students in the planning and promotion of alcohol-free social activities in order to determine whether such participation is associated with reduced alcohol use among students. Evaluation demonstrated a positive correlation between youth involvement in planning the activities and a lower rate of alcohol use among involved youth as compared with uninvolved youth. In addition, evaluation showed increased acceptance of alcohol-free events by the youth population as a whole. This study suggests that involving teens in planning their own activities may be effective both in preventing or reducing alcohol use among involved youth and in changing attitudes among non-involved youth.”5
  • YOUTH INVOLVEMENT AS NONPROFIT LEADERS: YouthBuild USA, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, and its affiliates each have policy committees that meet on a regular basis in order for corps members and alumni to give input and feedback. They discuss many of the same issues that the board is wrestling with, and their input is vital at the board level when decisions are being made. In certain areas, including hiring and firing, this committee serves as the decision-making body.6
  • YOUTH INVOLVEMENT IN RACIAL JUSTICE: The Tucson, Arizona, YWCA Racial Justice Youth Program provides opportunities for youth to understand the life experience of others, open the door to sustained connection with youth who are different from themselves, replace stereotypes with real people, encourage and be a catalyst for further dialogue and meaningful activities for thousands of students each year. The Racial Justice Youth Program empowers students with skills to lead and influence others to eliminate racism and prejudice. All aspects of the YWCA Racial Justice Youth Program are planned and implemented by young men and women who serve as members of the Racial Justice Youth Program Committee.7
  • YOUTH INVOLVEMENT IN PHILANTHROPY: The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Youth Development Division created a board that brings together teens from the greater Kansas City area to exchange ideas about the needs of young people. The Youth Advisory Board sets policy and guides the distribution of special grants from the Kauffman Foundation. It creates requests for proposals, meets to review applicants, conducts site visits, and gives grants of up to $5,000 for youth-led projects for youth service and youth leadership in the urban core of Kansas City.6
  • YOUTH INVOLVEMENT IN GOVERNMENT: San Francisco has a number of commissions that counsel the city in areas ranging from human services to city planning. Young people who provide input on policy advise many of these groups. In particular, the San Francisco Youth Commission assists other city departments and commissions to include youth voices and perspectives. In 2005 San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom launched a Youth-Led Transitional Youth Task Force. The TYTF addressed issues affecting the lives of at-risk youth transitioning to adulthood and worked in partnership with the San Francisco Youth Commission and utilized strategies developed through a Youth Transition Action Teams Initiative.9

These are just a few youth involvement success stories, but there are literally thousands from around the world! Please share yours in the comments and we might feature it here…

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Following are some of the places where these stories were found.

  1.  O’Donoghue, J.L. “Taking their own power,” in Ginwright, S., Noguera, P. and Cammarota, J. (2006) Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 229-235.
  2.  Movement Strategy Center. (2005) Bringing It Together: Uniting Youth Organizing, Development and Services for Long-Term Sustainability. Oakland, CA: Author. p. 55.
  3.  Kim, J., de Dios, M., Caraballo, P., et al. (2002) Future 500: Youth Organizing and Activism in the United States. New Orleans, LA: Subway and Elevated Press. p. 56.
  4.  Orton Family Foundation. (2009) “Vermont’s Teen Planners Shine on National Stage”, Middlebury, VT: Author. Retrieved 5/15/09 from
  5.  Advocates for Youth. (nd) “Youth involvement in prevention programming“, Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved 5/15/09 from
  6. Sazama, J., Young, K., Fletcher, A., et al (2007) 15 Points to Successful Youth Involvement in Decision-Making. Sommerville, MA: Youth On Board.
  7.  “YWCA of Tucson Programs and Services,” Tucson, AZ YWCA. Retrieved 5/15/09 from
  8.  “Youth Commission,” City and County of San Francisco. Retrieved 5/15/09 from
  9.  “Transitions: Teams in Action,” New Ways to Work. Retrieved 5/15/09 from

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