Youth and Nonprofits

Whether working locally, nationally or internationally, almost every single nongovernmental organization, also called nonprofit organizations, should rely on children and youth in their daily activities, including staffing, leadership, evaluation and more. Youth and nonprofits are tied together through their mutual energy, commitment and passion; however, the onus is on adults for engaging youth and not vice versa.

If you had a problem in the Black community, and you brought in a group of White people to discuss how to solve it, almost nobody would take that panel seriously. In fact, there’d probably be a public outcry. It would be the same the for women’s issues or gay issues. But every day, in local arenas all the way to the White House, adults sit around and decide what problems youth have and what youth need, without ever consulting us. — Jason, 17 years old, Youth Force Member, Bronx, NY

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through Nonprofits

Youth as Board Members — Young people can be vital and integral to organizational leadership. Every nonprofit should engage youth on their board of directors; local and international youth-focused NGOs should have at least one half of all board seats assigned to full-voting, regular youth membersMutual mentoring and adult champions of youth engagement must be strategically developed in order to ensure longevity and effectiveness.

Youth-Led Programs — Creating obvious, powerful and significant opportunities for young people to lead their own programs is another way youth can change the world through nonprofits. Working across many issues that are important to themselves, local and international communities, and with many different technologies both in-person and online, youth-led programs can be educational, social, cultural and empowering.

Youth as Founders — When adults aren’t responsive; when young people see the need; and when there’s authentic determination focused on changing the world, children and youth need to start nonprofits. As social entrepreneurs, young people can create and grow dynamic, responsive and engaging operations focused on meeting unmet needs and fostering social change around the world.

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Nonprofits

Training — Children and youth who become involved in operating nonprofits and NGOs need substantial training and technical assistance to be consistently effective, engaged and empowered staff and leaders. Training should focus on practical, applicable skills for their positions, while educational opportunities should development their knowledge relevant to the missions they are trying to accomplish and the visions at their core.

Inspiration — With the vast majority of NGOs being adult-led, adult-driven and adult-oriented (including youth-serving nonprofits) young people sometimes need inspiration and motivation to take action. Providing examples of youth action in organizations; offering meaningful opportunities for action; and creating new approaches to engaging youth as leaders and staff can all provide motivation.

Funding Foundations, philanthropists and funders of all stripes should provide substantial and sustained funding to support youth engagement in the operation of NGOs and nonprofits, and make this funding the normal and regular expectation of all youth-serving organizations. Infusing funding opportunities with this is key for the future of youth engagement, and anything less than this is disingenuous and inauthentic at best.

 

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Youth and Foster Care

Youth are changing the world right now.

Despite how they’re often treated, young people in the foster care system are powerful beyond measure. Even though they rarely have significant and meaningful opportunities to share their concerns and ideas or make meaningful decisions about the systems that control their lives, youth and foster care often need each other. Transforming foster care by empowering children and youth in foster care is absolutely vital. Rather than focusing on speaking for children and youth or doing things to children and youth, the foster care system should take action with young people to improve the system and outcomes.

Don’t try to silence me or my thoughts on being adopted. I have a voice, and everything I say is the truth and valid. I have been through it, therefore, I know. This is my story. — Source unknown

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through Foster Care

Youth as Decision-Makers — Young people in foster care should have substantial opportunities to make decisions for themselves. Adults should teach children and youth healthy and successful decision-making skills, and facilitate decision-making for every children and youth in foster care to experience personal, group and systemic decision-making, too.

Youth Evaluation — Positioning youth as evaluators can provide meaningful, applicable and real ways to change the world through foster care. Whether evaluating their placements, support services, counselors or other individuals and activities that affect them directly, or integrating them throughout community-wide evaluation activities, young people in foster care can share powerful assessments of their world.

Community Youth Development — In addition to teaching foster youth independent living skills, it is essential they learn how to rely on others throughout their communities in healthy, supportive and empowering ways. Interdependent living skills can be learned through community youth development strategies that are designed to integrate foster children and foster youth throughout their communities, whether geographic, cultural or otherwise.

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Foster Care

Opportunities — Foster care is an adult-driven system with adult-determined goals operated by adults for the benefit of adults, all focused on children and youth. Young people need substantial, relevant and meaningful opportunities to affect the system. These should not be tokenistic, belittling, demeaning, manipulative or otherwise negative. Instead, they should be equitable, geared towards youth/adult partnerships and transformative for everyone involved, including children, youth and adults.

Training — Whether they’re learning how to transform foster care in group homes, in nonprofits, through government programs, with foundations, or through the media, children and youth in foster care should have significant training. Their skills should be developed to ensure successful action, while their knowledge should be shared to encourage meaningful personal development.

Technology — Using every technology available to them, children and youth in foster care can change the world. Texting can increase communication and community building among youth in foster care, while social media can help ensure that foster childrens’ voices are heard. Building websites and forming organizations online can further systemic goals focused on youth engagement, while access to the Internet can be a building block for further action.

 

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Youth and International Development

SoundOut Student Voice Team in Seattle

After millennia of European domination, nations around the world are emerging in healthy, powerful ways. International development is slowly coming to focus on the whole planet, including young people.  Youth and international development are tied together, addressing a variety of issues including extreme poverty and hunger; universal education; gender equality and women’s empowerment; ending child mortality; improving maternal health; ending HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global commitment to human empowerment. Youth are partnering with adults to lead these movements today and towards the future.

When we’re talking about youth participation, we’re talking about challenging longstanding practices that hinder young people participating at all levels. So when we hear our leaders talking about young people getting involved, we actually would like to see them follow that through with concrete suggestions, such as a quote on all decision making boards for young people. — Jacque Koroi

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through International Development

Youth as Decision-Makers — Whether they’re focusing on economics, hunger or other issues, young decision-makers can be major contributors to international development through decision-making. Becoming active, involved and full members of boards and decision-making committees in international NGO and international specialized agencies can empower and engage young people in changing the world.

Youth as Movement Leaders — Working on their own or as partners with adults, young people can lead movements focused on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals or any international development issues that matter to them. Working across the Internet, using social media, texting or on the ground in local communities, youth can change the world as movement leaders.

Youth Media Makers — Learning about the issues that matter to them and taking action to inform others, children and youth can create and promote a variety of media, including print, online and video. Sharing messages and building consensus, youth media makers can create new approaches and foster new support for international development.

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through International Development

Opportunities — Creating, building, sustaining or recreating opportunities for youth involvement in international development can be vital for engaging youth. Opportunities can be systemic, educational, cultural, social, religious, or otherwise.

Education — Working with adults as allies or on their own, children and youth can learn the essential knowledge they need to take action for international development. Whether they’re promoting NGOs becoming involved in their local communities and nations, or working for those NGOs to building youth involvement or youth activism, young people can change the world by learning about international development.

Inspiration — With so many traditional messages focusing on “act local, think global”, it’s important for young people to get inspired to take on international development. As integral leaders over the last twenty years, young people have taken action, changed policies, and helped millions of people around the world. Sharing these stories and building interest matters.

 

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Youth and Government

Freechild Project youth in New Hampshire

Democracy demands active, involved and engaged citizens taking almost-constant action to make societies better places. Counting as more than 25% of the human population, children and youth are routinely, consistently and constantly left out of governments at all levels today. However, growing numbers of local, state, national and international government bodies are engaging young people. Bringing together youth and government can transform societies and change the world in countless ways.

“Words like ”freedom,’ ‘justice,’ ‘democracy” are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.”— James Baldwin

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through the Government

Youth as Policy-Makers — Empowering young people to participate as full-fledged policy-makers includes providing educating nontraditional youth leaders, providing substantive opportunities for action, and training adults as allies throughout the process. Through meaningful youth involvement, young people can transform systems, empower communities and infuse adult-driven institutions with youth power.

Community Youth Development — When young people are systemically involved throughout their communities, applying powerful skills and knowledge along the way, they can shift governments into action and encourage powerful transformation. Community youth development can also build the capacities of children and youth, their peers, families and others to change the world, too!

Service Learning — Combining meaningful service with real classroom learning goals can give students substantive opportunities to improve government services, engage more people in democratic processes, and ensure people stay informed and empowered through action. Service learning can teach students vital knowledge and build their skills to change the world. When infused in government, it can be more real than ever!

 

The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher!
The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher!

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through the Government

Opportunities — There must be substantial and inclusive opportunities for young people of all ages to affect governance. This can happen at the neighborhood level through community associations; at the village, town or city level by getting youth on board, creating positions for youth as city council members, or lowering the local voting age; at the county and parish level by creating youth action boards and lowering the voting age; at the state and provincial levels in many ways, including youth as staff and youth empowerment activities; and on the federal and international levels. These must be fully empowered, fully trained and focused on youth mainstreaming.

Training — Young people need high quality, practical training on the ways government operates, what difference it makes and why it matters to be involved. Focused on skill development, training can include communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Emphasizing knowledge-sharing, training can focus on democratic purpose, government functions and interacting with the public.

Inspiration — Young people need to know what government is, what government does and most importantly, how government operates. Without pedantic traditional classroom teaching styles, they should learn function, purpose, operation and outcomes, as well as how to successfully advocate for what matters most to them, their families and their communities.

 

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Youth and Racism

Freechild Project youth protest in Seattle

Youth and racism are wound together, depending on each other to unravel the pain, hurt and despicable enduring nature of racism. Being “against racism” is to be against any system based on some kind of supremacy, including white supremacy, racial supremacy of any kind, tribal supremacy, class supremacy, even male and female chauvinism. Young people are taking power action against racism and making their communities more powerful, empowering places for all people to live in.

Washing ones hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. — Paulo Freire

 

Ways Youth are Changing the World focusing on Racism

Youth-Led Activism — When adults won’t partner with young people or when young people want to take immediate action without permission, they can lead their own community organizing projects and rallying their peers to create change, or take action on their own. Picketing, sit-ins, boycotts and social media action are just some of the ways youth-led activism can affect racism.

Service Learning — Studying the social effects of racism, young people are building communities through service learning. Programs focused on white privilege, empowering communities of color and more can teach students about racism in distinctly effective ways. When facilitated effectively, service learning encourages students to apply their learning throughout their lives.

Youth and Incarceration — Young people are challenging the school-to-prison pipeline, long-term incarceration, incarcerating youth with adults, and solitary confinement within prisons, all wrapped together with analysis focused on the disproportionate incarceration of people of color. Youth and incarceration shouldn’t be synonymous, and youth can change the world when they focus on ending the racism which makes this happen.

 

The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide by Adam Fletcher
Order The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide!

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World focusing on Racism

Education — Learning about the history of racism isn’t enough. Young people need to understand their role in white privilege and racism, whether they’re people of color or white. Learning how to see privilege, dismantle white supremacy, overcome structural racism and fight against dominant cultural norms is essential, too.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Creating intentional relationships designed to foster trust, communication, mutual investment and meaningful involvement can effectively engage youth in changing the world focused on racism. Young people can transform communities and organizations through youth/adult partnerships, increasing effective action and building support along the way.

Opportunities — Young people need substantive opportunities to take action against racism. Schools, neighborhood groups, nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations can create opportunities. Young people can create their own opportunities through youth-led community organizing and youth-led programs, too.

 

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Youth and Public Health

Seattle students in a Freechild workshop discuss issues with an adult ally

Public health is made of organized efforts around the world that aim at to prevent disease and promote health across our communities. Tied together through education, action, evaluation and advocacy, youth and public health are addressing a lot of issues, including HIV/AIDs, smoking, pregnancy prevention, and more.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. — Source unknown

 

Ways Youth can Change the World focusing on Public Health

Youth as Teachers — Young people can be some of the best public health educators, whether teaching their parents, their siblings, other young people or adults throughout their communities. Engaging youth as teachers can quickly normalize activities, knowledge and attitudes that are different or new for their communities in ways adults cannot, and can reach people others can’t, either.

Social Media — Texting public health messages and sharing public health knowledge with their peers and other throughout social media can help youth be powerful communicators and recruiters. Social media can also help youth educators build community around their issues, roles and regions, too.

Youth-Led Activism — When adults won’t listen to youth voice or allow youth participation, young people can make their voices heard through activism. Whether they are organizing communities, leading sit-ins, advocating for policy change or building online movements, young people can be powerful activists for issues that matter to them.

 

The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher!
The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher!

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World focusing on Public Health

Education — Young people should know the basic, elemental parts of public health all of the time, no matter who they are, where they live or how much money their families and communities have. However, to change the world with public health, children and youth should learn critical thinking skills, build their knowledge base, and expand their abilities.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Working with adults as partners is a sure way to change the world through public health. Young people can teach adults about issues that matter while receiving the support, encouragement and knowledge of adults.

Funding — Securing and sustaining funding is vital for youth-led public health action. Changing the world through active engagement in the issues that affect them most, children and youth deserve the fiscal support they need for programs, activities and outcomes that reflect the importance of public health throughout our lives and communities.

 

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Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediators

Freechild Project youth in São Paulo, Brazil.

Engaging youth as mediators teaches young people to understand conflict within themselves and others. Discovering how they influence conflict, how to self-manage conflict, and how to identify strategies for calmness and clarity is enhanced by learning listening and speaking skills and how to understand other peoples’ point of view. Youth mediators can help other youth, younger students, and adults to have important conversations in order to become clearer themselves, understand each other’s perspectives, and make decisions about next steps. Youth can change the world as mediators when they apply these skills throughout their lives, including at home, in school, and throughout their communities.

You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist. — Indira Gandhi

Ways for Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediation

Youth-Led Programs — Young people can learn the deep parts of conflict resolution, become program designers and managers, and lead their own efforts to promote mediation in their schools and communities. Young people transform relationships when they move past struggle and towards interdependence and community-building.

Youth Courts — Youth courts are powerful tools for young people to develop their own capacity for problem-solving and mediation. Through jurisdiction and official proceedings, youth can reduce recidivism, promote conflict resolution and build communities instead of tearing them apart like traditional juvenile justice programs have.

Youth Managing Adult Staff — When young people participate in hiring, training, supervising and evaluating adult staff, they balance the perceptions of power within organizations and throughout communities. This acts towards mediation by empowering those who are taught, watched and facilitated by adults with the ability to rectify their challenges with adults, laying a substantive foundation for youth/adult partnerships.

Needs for Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediation

Education — Comprehensive youth mediation programs should include education for youth and adults on how to: Identify goals and outcomes; Identify and engage stakeholders, Create a team to plan and develop the program, Develop systems including referral, intake, mediation coordination; and Train students to become mediators and providing continuing education. Programs should also receive on-going technical assistance. Youth mediator programs should have immediately positive impact on conflict and be sustainable.

Opportunities — Young people need substantial opportunities to be mediators in the places they spend the most time, including at home, in schools and throughout their communities. They also need real adult allies who stand with them for mediation, and support from government agencies, law enforcement and others.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Real youth/adult partnerships engage young people and adults in equitable relationships that can build the power, purpose and potential of youth mediators. Through transparency, communication, mutual investment and meaningful involvement, young people and adults can transform community culture for the better.

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Project-Based Learning 

Freechild Project youth in Seattle

ALL children and youth are active people who want to be actively involved in learning, teaching and leadership throughout their communities. Responsible adults acknowledge that its not up to young people to become involved; in our adult-driven society, it is adults’ responsibility to engage youth. Project-based learning can give young people meaningful opportunities to move beyond negative participation and become meaningfully involved.

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through Project-Based Learning

Youth-Led Media — Assuming control when adults act out of control, young people can use media to create their own messages, share youth voice and build community belonging through youth-led media. Whether they use the Internet, social media, video, print media, or otherwise, youth-led media can change the world by positively empowering children and youth to create the messages and share the stories that matter to them.

Youth as Facilitators — Facilitating project-based learning can allow learners to become teachers and leaders, too. Centering on activities that matter to them, youth facilitators might teach their peers, younger learners and adults, too, in a variety of settings, including schools, nonprofits, community centers and other places.

Service Learning — Centering their projects on changing the world in positive, powerful ways and serving other peoples’ agendas can allow students to understand interdependence and community in powerful ways. Service learning connects real service with classroom learning goals, completing the promise of project-based learning in a different way.

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Project-Based Learning

Education — Discovering what project-based learning is empowers many young people in new and powerful ways. Learning how to implement this strategy is powerful too. But when children and youth discover the assumptions behind project-based learning, the realities of facilitating project-based learning, and what it takes to assess and share project-based learning with the world they soar even higher.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Working together across generations towards creating, completing and fulfilling the promise of project-based learning can empower young people in new ways. Youth/adult partnerships foster youth equity and support mainstreaming in powerful, meaningful ways.

Technology — Using the power of the internet, social media, gaming, texting and other technology can allow young people to change the world through project-based learning. Embracing their everyday technology as a learning device can bring them through indifference and inability towards empowerment and sustainable youth engagement.

 

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Community Youth Development + Social Change

Freechild Project youth at a summer camp in Seattle

Young people do not exist in a bubble or a vacuum. Instead, they are members of the communities, families and societies they grow up in, whether or not that is recognized by adults. One strategy for youth to change the world acknowledges this connection. Community youth development weaves the growth of young people as they naturally desire to create change in their surrounding environments into the development of their communities. Actively partnering youth and adults to create new opportunities, youth serve their communities while developing their own skills, knowledge and abilities.

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come to because your liberation is bound up in mine, we can work together. — Lilla Watson

Ways Youth can Change the World through Community Youth Development

Youth-Led Classes — Young people of all ages can teach their peers, younger people and adults how community development works, what community is, where communities exist, and what they can do to create change in their communities. Through this approach, young teachers and facilitators move the levers of social change and can defeat adultism, too.

Service Learning Service learning deliberately immeshes classroom learning goals into serious community action that meets real needs. Young people can change the world this way by taking ownership of their projects, cultivating positive results and encouraging community-building throughout.

Community Governance — When youth action councils, youth policy-makers, and government committees and commissions engage youth as partners, young people can influence, drive, lead and assess community development.

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Community Youth Development

Education — Community youth development isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon that automatically progresses young people in communities, villages, towns, cities and regions towards success. Instead, its an academic field of study, a research body, and a deliberate body of work assumed by governments, nonprofits and others. In order to become fully engaged partners, young people should learn as many aspects of that as possible.

Opportunities — Children and youth need practical, applicable and holistic opportunities to participate in community youth development. As the leaders, drivers and motivators of this action, practical opportunities to see real results should occur, along with meaningful opportunities to learn and grow, too.

Funding — While funding is essential for many actions with young people, community youth development is especially dependent on systemic measures to create, grow, sustain and enhance activities and opportunities. Foundations, government agencies and other donors must support community youth development with real investments.

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Youth Infusion

Freechild Project youth and adult workshop participants

The term youth infusion was coined by expert and Freechild Project advisor Wendy Lesko, who says the term summarizes “where young people are involved in every conceivable way — as volunteers and paid community organizers, as facilitators and trainers, as conference planners, and as full-fledged members on a board of directors.”

The Freechild Project expands on Wendy’s idea and suggests youth infusion means the absolute and complete integration of youth throughout all of society. It encapsulates the total end of all age-based restrictions against children and youth, instead acknowledging their vast and under-acknowledged contributions and energies as they apply throughout homes, schools, organizations, communities, nations and the world. As youth infusion becomes apparent throughout a society, young people gain the rights to vote, move freely, and partake in the economy. They also gain the responsibilities of paying taxes, engaging civically and building community.

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through Youth Infusion

Youth Mainstreaming — Transforming institutions by engaging young people throughout their functions is a key step towards youth infusion, and is embodied by youth mainstreaming. Professional development, training and programs should reflect this commitment.

Policy-Ins — Changing organizational policies can be harrowing, especially when nonprofits, government agencies and legislative bodies have dozens and hundreds of pages. Policy-ins give youth and adults opportunities to work together to study existing policies, propose changes and work together to infuse youth throughout policies.

Mutual Mentoring — Working together with adults as allies, youth can teach adults and be taught by adults in a mutually-beneficial way. Eliminating the barriers of adultism, youth infusion can be fostered

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Youth Infusion

Education — Before young people can effectively become infused throughout the organizations and communities they spend their lives in, they can learn about the vision, mission, goals, functions and outcomes of the places they are at. They can learn about the issues they’re addressing and the most effective actions to take. Perhaps most importantly, they can become more effectively involved throughout the organizations and communities where youth infusion is the goal.

Opportunities — Youth infusion can happen in organizations and communities that create deliberate, intentional and accountable opportunities. Youth/adult partnerships become apparent throughout every step, including transparency, mutual accountability and each of the principles involved. There are also structural and systemic actions taken that foster youth infusion, too.

Champions — Whether they are youth or adults, every organization and community needs a champion for youth infusion. These champions can be the people served, staff, managers, or board directors. Oftentimes, the most effective champions are leaders who believe in youth infusion.

 

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