How Organizations Can Foster Youth Engagement

Freechild Project adult ally teaching youth media making skills

For almost 20 years, the Freechild Institute has been training and consulting youth-serving organizations about youth + social change, including youth engagement and youth voice. We have learned a lot, including how organizations can engage youth.

Steps to Foster Systems for Youth Engagement

This graphic shows some of the elements, types and functions of systems for youth engagement throughout our society.

Here are the steps to transform and sustain organizational youth engagement.

1. Name a Youth + Social Change Director.

Every organization committed to youth + social change should have a youth engagement director. This individual should be or become an expert on youth engagement, youth voice and young + social change who is dedicated to the continued strengthening of their organization’s youth engagement training, programs and policies. 

2. Identify Champions for Youth + Social Change.

Freechild designates every youth-serving adult in our projects and activities as champions for youth + social change. After they are trained in youth + social change, they are expected to implement youth engagement approaches, strategies, policies, programs, training, assessment and communications.

3. Build Youth Organizations.

All aspects of organizations and programs fostering youth + social change should engage young people directly. Youth are encouraged to attend all organizational activities, including decision-making and leadership activities, fundraising, evaluation and grant-reporting activities, and more. Nothing about youth without youth is for youth, and everything within youth-serving organizations should be for youth. Do not tokenize, do not minimize and do not limit; instead, open doors, build capacity and sustain involvement. Develop strategic plans, name practical objectives, develop genuine goals, and route deliberate activities to get there. Assign real money, real people and pragmatic resources to get it done. Build your organizations and programs.

4. Evolve the Abilities of Youth.

The knowledge, skills and abilities of young people are always evolving, expanding and becoming bigger, brighter and more capable than ever before. This is youth + social change happening, in real time! Within youth-serving organizations, the ways we teach, train, work with and work for young people need to reflect this evolution. We need to expand our capacities by expanding their capacities, and continue to evolve, develop, criticize and redevelop our programs and activities in ways that reflect these evolving capacities of young people. Seeing and treating youth as individuals and as members, not beneficiaries, is essential to this. Of course, its also essential to see young people as resources to engage, not problems to be solved. This happens in formal and informal ways, and the importance of this should never be minimized or limited.

5. Evolve the Abilities of Adults.

In almost all of our well-meaning organizations, we rely on young people seeing adults as resources for themselves. Assuming that simply showing up is enough to gain their trust and earn their respect, in times past we might have just did the intake and called it good. Right now, we need to evolve the abilities of adults to foster youth + social change because youth today are unlike any generation of youth ever before. Intentionally teach adults how to engage young people in social change in the specific environments, cultures and communities where they are working. Directly build the abilities of adults how to sustain the interest and change the world with youth as partners, everywhere, all of the time.

6. Fight Adultism Actively.

Safeguard against adultism in everything you do, everywhere, all the time. Don’t just fight it, don’t just challenge, but create purposeful processes, procedures and ways to actually prevent adultism from happening. All adults must respect all young people in every way without discriminating against them. Every young person needs to learn what adultism is, how it affects them and how they can stop it.

7. Establish the Rule of Two.

The rule of two is that every school, nonprofit, government program and other activity in every community needs to assign and ensure that every young person is directly, consistently and meaningfully connected to at least one adult within their activities. Freechild also calls this Mutual Mentorship, meaning that the rule of two actively breaks down the typical hierarchal command and control youth work relationship and replaces it with learning opportunities for youth and adults together, as partners and allies. Within these relationships, youth + social change needs to be made obvious and overt, and needs to be diligently and substantially maintained in any form, whether in-person or online.

8. Report, Respond, Celebrate and Criticize.

Within every any activity fostering youth + social change, policies need to assure accountability from adults to young people and the organization to the broader community through prompt reporting, practical responses, obvious celebrations and open critical thinking about any youth-serving program. The intention here is to establish, maintain and sustain a mutual space for interactive, applicable democratic action and ideas for young people and adults to participate in, learn from, built open and share with the world they live in every day.

Sustaining Youth + Social Change

This is a graphic of the Freechild Institute youth engagement mapping tool.
This is a graphic of the Freechild Institute youth engagement mapping tool.

The abilities of organizations to sustain youth + social change is directly connected to how well they foster and support young people. While its essential to engage adults in meaningful ways, when youth + social change happens young people are the focus in powerful, positive and meaningful ways throughout. However, the ultimate starting point is to plan from the end you want to see. So begin by planning for youth + social change, and plan backwards to the point where you’re at right now. The old adage is true: “The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift and that’s why its called the present.”

Be where you’re at and do what you can do.

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Youth + Social Change in Democratic Education

Freechild Project youth in a summer camp session

Democratic education is intentionally designed learning where young people experience democracy in action, attitudes and knowledge. With democracy as a learning tool, children and youth experience shared processes, sharing their voices, staying engaged and learning through action. By focusing on justice, equality and meaningful experiences, democratic education can be a powerful tool for youth + social change.

We have worked with K-12 schools, nonprofits and government agencies to develop programs, projects, classes and more that infuse democratic education into classrooms, school improvement activities, governance and much more. There are no limits to the places where democratic education can happen or who can be involved.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

― Howard Thurman

Ways for Youth + Social Change through Democratic Education

Self-Driven Learning — When young people discover ways to learn, motivation to learn and the purpose of learning, they can learn what they want in powerful ways. Whether using life experience, studies or personal exploration, self-driven learning can change the world by fostering independence and personal engagement.

Young People as Whole People — According to Alfie Kohn, “Children, after all, are not just adults-in-the-making. They are people whose current needs and rights and experiences must be taken seriously.” Too often education treats students as humans becoming instead of human beings. The notion that young people are whole people is inherently democratic and could force the radical re-envisioning of education as a place of growth and support.

Meaningful Student Involvement — Engaging young people and educators in student/adult partnerships to discourage adultism can happen when students are planners, researchers, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers and advocates. This is the most systematic and engaging avenue for student voice in democratic education.

Needs for Youth + Social Change through Democratic Education

Training — Young people and adults can grow their learning together through educational opportunities to learn about democracy, education and the integration of each. The process of democratic education is never finished, and building the skills and knowledge of people learning together is a powerful way to foster succeeding generations of innovation and opportunity.

Opportunities — Practical and pragmatic opportunities for all students in every school to experience democratic education are the key to securing new generations of passionately engaged citizens. Developing and sustaining opportunities to co-create democracy in schools is vital to democratic education.

Reflection — Learning about democracy and learning from democracy are two different experiences that rely on each other; its not enough to do one and not the other. As John Dewey wrote, “Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” Reflection allows, encourages and facilitates learning and action, which is at the heart of youth changing the world!

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Elsewhere Online

Freechild Institute Research

(April 2020) Since 2001, the Freechild Institute has been facilitating learning events, conducting projects, building networks and supporting youth + social change around the world.

Recently, Freechild partnered with Jill Feldman, PhD of Westat and Kirk Knestis, PhD of Inciter to develop a number of tools to help us evaluate and research our offerings.

In our first survey, we use 10 questions measure perceptions of organizations relating to youth/adult partnerships. These questions were based off work by a team led by Shepard Zeldin, S. who wrote a September 2014 article called “Conceptualizing and Measuring Youth-Adult Partnership in Community Programs: A Cross National Study Article” for the American Journal of Community Psychology 54(3-4).

This survey will run through August 2020, and we want it to go wide and far. When its complete, we will release a public paper to announce our findings!

The Freechild Institute will be introducing other tools from this partnership soon. If you have any questions, contact Adam Fletcher at (360) 489-9680 or email him today.

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Youth Voice on the Internet

Youth Voice on the Internet by Adam Fletcher

Research shows youth are using the Internet more than ever right now. Based on almost 20 years experience, the Freechild Institute is interested is exploring the reality that this usage is complex and sophisticated, and shares youth voice in nearly countless ways. This article explores how youth voice is happening on the Internet, where it is happening and why it is happening.

Understanding the Issue

With the COVID-19 pandemic sending young people online worldwide, its more important than ever to understand how youth voice can be heard on the internet. This means understanding who shares youth voice, how it happens, why it matters, when youth voice occurs online, and what it means to listen to youth voice online.

Adults’ concerns for young people are often and accidentally distrustful and disrespectful of children and youth. Without intention, we assume the worst of our students and participants in many spaces. Relying on cold data and calculated statistics, our programs and classes figure young people are doing the worst possible things they can be until we correct their course.

Unfortunately, this is true online too. With sensational headlines and screaming pronouncements we decide learners aren’t learning, leaders aren’t leading and youth are going to hell in a handbasket whether they’re playing video games, chatting with friends or otherwise not doing what adults want them to, where they want it done, in ways they can predict.

In order to defeat these worst projections, we have to understand the value of youth voice on the internet.

Four Factors

The graphic above includes four different factors I believe are important when we examine youth voice on the internet. These factors are:

  1. Expressions of Youth Voice on the Internet
  2. Aspects of Youth Voice Online
  3. Types of Youth Voice on the Internet
  4. A Continuum of Youth Voice Online

The following sections explore these four factors.

1. Expressions of Youth Voice on the Internet

Expressions of Youth Voice on the Internet
This graphic illustrates expressions of youth voice online.

In my early writing, I explored how youth voice is best defined as any expression of any young person anywhere, about anything, any time, in any way for any reason at all. This definition reflects the wide-ranging intentions, forms and outcomes of youth voice. It is meant to deny the necessity of adults in youth voice, and instead affirms the most authentic forms of youth voice. Young people do not need adult permission, activities or acceptance to share youth voice; it is already shared wherever youth are all of the time. The question isn’t whether youth are sharing their voices; its whether adults are willing and able to hear what is being said.

All of that said, it is important to expand on what and how adults think youth voice is shared. When I listen to youth voice in my projects, research and home, I look for the following directly from youth themselves:

  • Thoughts
  • Ideas
  • Attitudes
  • Knowledge
  • Tone
  • Feelings
  • Beliefs
  • Opinions
  • Ideas
  • Wisdom
  • Moods

That’s not a complete list of different expressions of youth voice, either. However, it can begin to alert adults to the various ways young people make themselves hear on the internet already. Learn more ways youth voice is expressed elsewhere here »

2. Aspects of Youth Voice Online

Online Youth Voice Aspects
This graphic illustrates two aspects of youth voice on the Internet.

Since youth voice can be expressed in virtually countless ways online, I believe it is vital to examine different aspects of these expressions. One way is by observing the ways youth voice online is private, and the ways youth voice online is public. The difference between these two can be seen like this:

Private Youth Voice can be transient, fluctuating, isolated, direct and immediate. In different types of private youth voice, the expressions of young people can appear and disappear quickly; they are targeted towards certain people, frequently their peers; and they are often intimate, personal and emotional, whether funny, depressing, angry or just blah. It is most often shared alone, between just two people, or within a small group of people. Private youth voice fluctuates and reveals the differentiating nature of young people, changing according to their increasing knowledge, skills and abilities. Finally, its immediate and sudden, often reflecting reflective thinking and critical analysis, but also showing whit, style and perception at the same time.

Public Youth Voice can be more permanent, steady, expansive, indirect and gradual. When young people are talking with adults in large group settings, working together with their peers to lead movements or make large-scale statements, building online strategies and creating massive social change, they are sharing public youth voice. Public youth voice typifies young people because it can seem like these expressions freeze young peoples’s voices in a single place and time, making it appear as a steady, regular phenomenon. With countless issues it can be expressed towards, public youth voice can seem very broad too, and with its apparent permanency public youth voice can seem to make a gradual appearance, as if it comes from a logical, intentional and strategic place.

3. Types of Youth Voice on the Internet

Youth voice activities on the Internet
This graphic illustrates different youth voice activities on the Internet.

The Internet provides a unique avenue for youth voice because it is public and private at the same time.

When youth share different types of youth voice online, they are often hyper-conscious of these different aspects. For instance, in the traditional types of youth voice on the internet, young people create public artifacts for the masses to consume on the web. This includes commenting, web design, blogging, video-making, and conference calls. These are all static ways the Internet has been used for a long time, if not throughout its entire existence.

In current types of youth voice, the internet is used in private ways, including emails, private chat, texting and messaging. These are all transient ways that can and often do completely disappear after they are consumed. Examples of this technology include TikTok, Snapchat, iMessages, Discord and much, much more.

Along with several other ways, social media, gaming and hashtags can represent both private (transient) and public (static) types of youth voice online.

Learn about different ways youth voice is shared »

4. A Continuum of Youth Voice Online

Continuum of Youth Voice Online
This graphic illustrates a continuum of youth voice online.

Understanding why youth express themselves online isn’t rocket science, but isn’t always clear, either. It can be useful to understand all youth voice online through the lenses of the “3 C” continuum: Creation, Consumption and Criticism. These three C’s can help us listen to youth voice on the Internet more effectively:

  • Are youth creating the Internet by producing content and communicating, including chatting, blogging, creating websites, PDFs, infographics, photos, videos, etc.?
  • Are youth consuming the Internet by reading, buying, watching, listening, playing, and otherwise intaking different content already produced on the Internet?
  • Are youth criticizing the Internet and its content with critical thinking and interacting with other web users through conversation, commenting, recreating and remixing the Internet and its content?


When considering these factors, it’s important to understand that youth voice is never simply one thing for all youth, everywhere, all the time—not simply online, but also at home, throughout the community, and far beyond!

Instead, this article is meant to show youth voice on the internet as a broad, dynamic and constantly shifting reality. It can be an avenue for democratic engagement and culture building, as well as critical pedagogy and social justice. However, it can just as easily be weaponized to implement fascism and enforce the will of tyrants.

Do you have a favorite type of youth voice online? What are your questions, comments or concerns about this article? Please share your thoughts, ideas and responses in the comments!

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Youth Voice at Home

Youth Voice at Home

During the COVID-19 Pandemic we’re being asked to shelter at home and socially distance ourselves from our friends, family and coworkers. Young people are suddenly without schools, the basis of many of their social networks, and they are constantly surrounded by their family. This is a new reality that demands adults learn how to shelter at home with youth voice.

Youth voice is any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, at any time, for any reason.

I define youth voice as any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, at any time, for any reason. There are no limits or boundaries for youth voice because it isn’t up to adults when, who, where, how, what, or why children and youth choose to express themselves. Young people don’t even have to strive to make themselves heard because they’re always expressing themselves. The question isn’t whether youth are sharing their voices; its whether adults are listening to what’s being shared.

While we’re all locked up at home right now, some of us live with young people. In many homes, adults don’t know what youth voice is. They aren’t familiar with programs at school or in the community seeking to elevate the expressions of young people in positive ways. The thoughts, ideas, knowledge, wisdom and actions—all of which are youth voice—are valid and important at home, too.

Right now, as a father and advocate, I’m more concerned than ever with how parents listen to youth voice, and engage youth voice intentionally. Based on my professional research and practice as well as my personal experience, I compiled the following for adults who are interested in supporting youth voice at home.

Types of Youth Voice at Home

Following are some types of youth voice at home.

Decision-Making—There are two types of decision-making at home, personal and household. Household decisions affect everyone in the home; personal decisions only affect individual people. Youth voice can be shared in decision-making in many ways, including places to go together, family food, decorating, shared activities and household budgets affect the household; Eating, clothing, and bathing are personal decisions. Since young people are members of houses, everything they do can affect every other person in the house, including seemingly personal decision-making.

Feedback—Giving feedback doesn’t just happen from adults-to-children; instead, it happens from children-to-adults and children-to-children. It happens all the time too, whether or not adults are listening or even want to hear it. Youth voice can be shared in feedback given about any subject or activity at home.

Creativity—Young people are constantly creative, whether they are in their own space being personally creative or creating out loud for everyone around them to see, hear, feel, taste or touch. Creativity shows youth voice within houses in all kinds of ways, including music, painting, poetry or knitting, as well as moving furniture, making meals or other expressions.

Learning—Children and youth are teaching and learning all the time at home. The subjects and the issues they’re learning about vary, and include things unique to their home like family history, making food, and constructing walls; as well as things they share with young people around the world, like gaming and tech, creative writing or academic subjects. Young people also learn through teaching their siblings and their parents. Youth voice comes through learning in all these ways and many more.

Problem-Solving—When faced with challenges affecting the whole family, children and youth can be partners with adults in the home to solve problems. Creating opportunities for that collaboration can foster family cohesion and positive belonging for everyone involved. Youth voice can come through problem-solving at home in many ways, especially in day-to-day activities as well as long-term.

Energy—The way people in a house think and feel affects how they treat each other. This treatment sets the household tone and culture, and is a visible factor to anyone within the home. The energy of the house is reflected in the language, attitudes, beliefs and ideals within and among the people who live there.

Recreation—As young people having fun, relaxing and recreation is essential to daily living. Whether its gaming or reading, dancing or bicycling, there are many ways recreation happens. Recreation can share youth voice in many ways, including making decisions and the tone of the recreation, the choice of activities and the people who are chosen to participate.

Consumption—Household consumption is a choice everyone makes all the time, and those choices are a type of youth voice. Whether young people are consuming food, electricity or otherwise, they can make their decisions about consumption on their own, help others in the household make their choices, and partner with adults at home to choose how to consume things.

Communication—The styles of communication in a household reflect youth voice indirectly and very directly. Whether its communication between adults and children or from child-to-child all communication in a household is an expression of countless factors. These expressions can happen through spoken words and unspoken body language; actions by a person as well as inaction; and many other ways. Youth voice is shared in the ways young people express themselves; the topics and subjects expressed about; the timing of expressions; who they are expressed towards and with; and where they are expressed.

Health—Our health, including our mental, physical and spiritual realities, includes our sleep, food, exercise, surroundings, activities and much more. Youth voice is expressed through health in all ways, because ultimately every way a person treats themselves reflects their thoughts, knowledge, feelings, ideas, and wisdom.

Mindsets—Our mindset is the mental framework we approach the world with. Youth voice reflects mindsets, and mindsets reflect youth voice. Young people share their core beliefs, personal assumptions, cultural wisdom and much more through their mindsets.

These are some types of youth voice at home. What would YOU add to the list? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Some Questions

After we look over these types of youth voice, it’s important to think about what we’ve read. Maybe some of this is new to you, maybe it’s a reminder. Either way, we should all take action to apply our new knowledge at home as well as in our work and throughout our community. Here’s some questions to consider:

  • What difference does a household’s income, race, education, economic ability, gender identity, or religion make to youth voice?
  • Can every child and youth experience youth voice everywhere, all of the time?
  • What should adults do to open their hearts and minds to youth voice?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, and forward this to your friends, colleagues and others.

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Activity: Crossing the Line

When facilitated right, “Crossing the Line” can be a powerful, interactive, and effective activity that builds diversity awareness within a group.

The goals of this activity include

  • Help participants learn about themselves;
  • Give participants an opportunity to reflect upon their self- and cultural identity;
  • Allow the community involved to appreciate its own diversity more and learn to treat each other like the diverse human beings we all are, instead of as homogenized, singular, culture-less beings.


The following are recommended instructions for Crossing the Line. This activity requires thorough facilitation, and should not be conducted carelessly or lightly.

Read over the directions closely, and ask questions in the comments section below or by contacting us. We’re also available to come to your community to facilitate Crossing the Line.

1. Time needed

About 35 minutes for the activity, and at least 45 minutes for discussion.

2. Space Set Up

Plenty of open space (All chairs to the side or out of the room)
• Note on the door (Workshop in Progress, DO NOT DISTURB!)
• Dim the lights a bit if possible.
• Facilitator should be off to the side so he is not the center of attention.

3. Publicity

Keep it open-ended. It seems fair to describe it as “a workshop where we find ways in which we are both different from and similar to each other.” Be careful about over billing the workshop.


Be careful not to draw too much attention to the facilitator; the focus should be on the exercise and the group.

1. Intro Statement

“This is a diverse organization and we have spent the last couple days exploring that diversity. In this exercise we continue exploring that diversity. Much of our earlier exercises addressed diversity that was obvious. We want to acknowledge and address those differences but also bring to the surface other differences that we may not have recognized. This process might prove difficult at first, or a bit awkward. This afternoon we want to break down stereotypes and make it easier to know one another as full human beings.”

2. Process

“I would like everyone to gather on one side of the room and face towards its center.” (Wait for everyone to move.)

“I will call out specific categories/labels/descriptions. I will ask that all those who fit this description walk to the other side of the room and turn around, facing the rest of the group.” (As an example, the facilitator names a category that only he or she would fit, and then walks to the other side of the room, and turns around.)

“After several seconds I will ask you to return to the group.”

3. Participant Guidelines

“Over the next half hour or so, we will share some of our experiences and vulnerabilities with one another. This will demand a safe atmosphere. To insure that we remain sensitive to one another’s feelings, we need to follow two critical guidelines.”

“The first involves LISTENING. Let’s have silence throughout the exercise–no talking, snickering, giggling, etc. Silence will allow all of us to participate fully. Silence will also enable us to experience our personal thoughts and feelings more clearly.”

“The second guideline is RESPECT. It is imperative that we respect the dignity of each person who is here this evening. Everything that is shared should remain confidential. Nothing that is offered should leave this room. However, if–having gone through the workshop–you truly need to talk to a particular individual about something he or she has shared, be sure you ask that person’s permission.”

“I need a nod of the head to indicate that you understand the importance of our keeping an atmosphere both silent and respectful…”

“Before we begin there are several other guidelines that we need to consider.”

NO PRESSURE. “No one here is under any pressure to respond in any particular way to any of the questions. If you have any doubts about sharing some part of yourself, you should feel perfectly comfortable with your decision not to walk across the room.”

“One final point. Each of the categories I use will have some GRAY AREAS. If you find yourself stuck in a gray area, simply define the words from your own point of view. In other words, define the terms as you yourself understand them when thinking of yourself. For example, suppose the question asks everyone who is religious to walk across the room. If you think of yourself as religious, then the word fits, regardless of whether or not someone else would use the word “religious in the same way, and regardless of other meanings the word might have. If you have serious reservations about the clarity or meaningfulness of any particular category,
then the best things to do is to not cross to the other side of the room.”

4. Facilitator Suggestions

  • Speak clearly. If the group is large, people may have trouble hearing you, and their questions will cause an interruption.
  • Don’t rush the process. Allow time for personal reflection. Don’t ask the next question too soon.
  • Have more than one reader. If possible, present varied voices for the statements below. Make sure each reader has a chance to read the statements over first, follows the suggestions here, and participates fully in the process.

Group Instructions

Before you begin, finish sharing these instructions:

  • “So that’s it for the format and the guidelines to be followed. Any questions?”
  • “If you cannot stay for the entire exercise, don’t feel comfortable with the guidelines, or simply don’t believe like the workshop is going to he beneficial for you, it’s OK to wait outside the room during the exercise.”
  • “To start, let’s try a simply category. It will help me clarify the process.”
  • “Once we begin, please, no interruptions. ONCE WE BEGIN, PLEASE DO NOT ASK ANY QUESTIONS. Often during the process you may feel like you want to say something. There will be plenty of time at the end for discussion about the process.”

1. Before You Start

Following are statements you can make in Crossing the Line. These are not the only statements you can make; however, if you modify them, you should do so before you facilitate the activity: DO NOT MAKE IT UP ON THE GO. Instead, think through why you’re asking each statement and what the intended outcome is from asking it. You can say shallow or deep statements; personal or global statements; or many other types. However, do not say mean or thoughtless statements; hateful or hurtful statements; angry or destructive statements. Think through each statement before you start and discuss it with other facilitators if possible.

2. Practice Statements

These are additional practice statements:

  • “Cross to the other side of the room if you are not from [here].
  • “Cross to the other side of the room if you feel your home is [here].”

    “Remember, all the legal and philosophical questions about “home” don’t matter. What matters is what the word “home” means to you. If you are confused or uncomfortable, the best policy is NOT to cross to the other side of the room.”

3. Statements

  • You identify as male
  • You identify as female
  • You don’t identify on the gender binary scale

“REMINDER: No talking…” Consider issuing this and other reminders as an ounce of prevention, even if a problem isn’t coming up at the moment.

  • In the past year you have been in a relationship and been hurt.
  • You feel that you have not formed a close friendship in [this program].
  • You take pride in [this program].
  • You are Catholic.
  • You are Protestant.
  • You are Jewish.
  • You are another religion.
  • You identify as an atheist or agnostic.
  • You are a person of color.
  • You know little about your cultural heritage.
  • You know a lot about your cultural heritage.
  • You wish you had more money.
  • You consider your family as working class.
  • You consider your family as middle class.
  • You consider your family as upper class. (VERY FEW WILL GO, BECAUSE THAT NOT HOW THEY THINK OF THEMSELVES, and THAT’S OK)
  • You have felt embarrassed about the economic class your family is in.

    “REMINDER: Walk across the room only when you feel comfortable identifying yourself in this way.”
  • You come from a family of four or more children you are an only child
  • You live independently of your parents.
  • You have taken primary responsibility either for raising another member of your family or caring for an elderly member of your family
  • You have low self-esteem
  • You would like to lose ten or more pounds
  • You have been to college or plan to go to college
  • You have not graduated from high school
  • You have had serious thoughts about leaving this program
  • You feel physically unattractive

    Facilitator Note: As the workshop is structured it makes one dip into the personal with the previous question. Then we back up to what is easier before making a deeper trip.
  • You consider yourself a Democrat
  • You consider yourself a Republican
  • You consider yourself a socialist
  • You consider yourself a feminist
  • Your parents have either divorced, separated, or never married
  • At least one of your parents have died
  • You feel disconnected or estranged from your parents
  • There have been times when you have seriously felt that, if you could choose, you would not choose the ethnicity into which you were born
  • You find yourself thinking about food considerably more often than you want
  • You have medical problem
  • You have a learning disability
  • You have a physical disability
  • You have questioned your sexual orientation
  • You have experienced the effects of alcoholism in your family
  • You have experienced the effects of drug addiction in your family
  • You have had a sexual experience that you regretted
  • You have experienced suicidal thoughts at some point in your life
  • You have cried at least once this year
  • You have cried at least once this year for someone or something other than yourself
  • Since you joined [this program], you have laughed at yourself at least once
  • Cross the room if you could use a hug right now. (People generally begin hugging each other during this time.)

4. Discussion Afterwards

“I want to remind the group again of the guidelines. During this discussion we must have the utmost respect. Again, no talking while others speak, no side comments, giggling, etc.

“I also want to remind people that everything spoken in this room stays in the room.”

Facilitator Note: This shouldn’t be an analysis of the activity; be careful about focusing on the merits of the workshop. If someone makes a comment about the workshop, thank them for their comment and refocus the discussion towards people’s feelings and stories.

Be careful about comments focused on others; keep participants focused on themselves and their own thoughts, feelings and other responses during the activity.

The discussion can become a group of people questioning other people why they crossed. Try to gently steer the discussion to give space for those who really feel the need to explain and tell the group something about themselves.

5. Closing Debrief

(The discussion should feel a bit confessional. If the exercise has run well, people will be very introspective and quiet.


  • “How are you feeling right now?”
  • “Is there anything you want to say to your fellow participants about why you crossed the room on a particular questions?”

Use the discussion to allow people to EXPLAIN, SHARE, AND TELL STORIES about any of the statements. Use the discussion to allow people to talk about HOW THEY FEEL right now and how they feel about the exercise.

6. Closure

End the discussion by thanking everyone for participating. You may want to describe how this workshop has affected you.

Remind everyone again that whatever was said in the room stays in the room. It is a serious breach of respect and trust if you share any of this with anyone outside this room. If you feel like you need to speak with an individual about something he or she said, please ask them first.

Origins: This workshop originally came from presentations done at Stanford University around 1985 by Isoki Femi and Linda Gonzales csp). This is a modified version based on an outline from Dennis Matthies, Center for Teaching and Learning, Stanford University.

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Youth Engagement in Government Agencies

The Freechild Project Strategies for Youth to Change the World

The Freechild Institute supports youth engagement in government services. Our services include program planning, professional development, coaching services, project evaluation and more. We have also created a number of resources that may be valuable to government agencies.

  • Youth Engagement Mapping—This self-guided process can examine current and potential youth engagement by identifying data, processes and other avenues.
  • Citywide Youth Engagement Strategies—Working alongside city-level agencies, Freechild Institute assists with developing citywide youth engagement strategies.
  • Youth and Government—This resource page identifies current practices to foster youth engagement in governance and shares potential ways to expand on those activities.
  • Understanding Roles for Youth in Community Development—This short reflection explores opportunities for youth in community development, along with concerns about what is happening, and possibilities for what could happen.
  • Strategic Youth Mainstreaming—Freechild has adapted this European approach to youth engagement that focuses on popularizing youth engagement to the broadest extent by removing barriers and more.

For more information about our services supporting youth engagement in government, contact us now.

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Freechild provides workshops across the United States, Canada and internationally in four main areas:

VOICE—Freechild teaches that youth voice is any expression of any young person anywhere, at any time for any reason. We facilitate workshops that help people learn how, when, where and why youth voice matters!

ENGAGEMENT—Choosing the same thing over and over allows young people to establish their purpose, power and possibilities in life. Freechild’s learning activities show that when those choices are intentional, positive and motivated, they can connect youth with what matters for their entire lifetimes.

INVOLVEMENT—Fostering systemic opportunities for youth in activities, programs, organizations and communities requires planning, learning, action and reflection. Participants in Freechild workshops find out how youth engagement happens and where it matters most.

ACTION—You wouldn’t give the keys to a 16-year-old and tell them to figure out how to drive, but you would turn them loose with a budget and no learning about planning, facilitating and improving youth action? Freechild facilitates learning about youth action in positive, powerful ways! This includes our new Social Action Recharge for Youth & Adults workshop (see bottom!)

GET TRAINED: Voice, Involvement, Engagement, Action by Freechild Institute,

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Social Action Recharge Workshop for Youth & Adults by Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement
Social Action Recharge Workshop for Youth & Adults by Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement
Freechild training for youth and adults
Freechild Institute training for youth and adults with topics and audiences

Youth Involvement Campaign

Sustained, meaningful involvement is a key to engaging youth with purpose, power and belonging.

The Freechild Institute is building an international movement to build, increase, sustain and expand youth involvement throughout the activities, programs, organizations and communities they belong within.

We are doing this with a campaign focused on education, including social media, print materials, training and evaluation. Our international training team led by Adam Fletcher will travel to your community or conference to help build this movement.

Contact us today for more information.

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How Youth Become Adult Allies

How Youth Become Adult Allies

Cynicism eats at the hearts of adults. With media and politicians relying on negative feelings towards youth, many adults have stopped seeing youth as the future. Instead, they view young people as lazy, hostile, apathetic and incapable. Luckily, there is another way to be.

When youth become adults, they have the potential to become allies to youth. Whether they are young adults, parents or elders, all adults can become adult allies to young people.

“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.'”

—Toni Morrison

How Youth Become Adult Allies

When youth age out or transition from youth programs into adulthood, they can be some of the most powerful adult allies in our communities. Here are ways youth can become adult allies:

  1. Reflect. Looking at their experiences as youth program participants, community members, or the subjects of different activities, adults should acknowledge who they were as youth, how they were involved, what they did, where they were and why they were involved.
  2. Learn. Exploring different activities and issues affecting youth and communities today, adults should learn about what matters most to young people today.
  3. Engage. Find opportunities to interact, connect, expand, appropriately deepen and meaningfully sustain your engagement with young people. This means asking young people what matters most to them, empowering them to make change, connecting them to resources and sustaining your support.
  4. Advocate. Position young people to advocate for themselves, and when they can’t you should advocate for them. In adult-only spaces, work to transform them to bring youth into planning, research, decision-making, evaluation and advocacy.
  5. Sustain. Do everything within your power to sustain your interest and commitment to engaging youth throughout their own lives, our communities, democracy and social change.

Becoming an adult ally isn’t something that just happens one time. Instead it takes commitment and re-commitment and a sustained interested in personal engagement and social transformation.

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