Sustaining youth involvement

How do you keep doing it after so long?!? I’ve heard this question asked to youth, to adults who work with youth, and myself dozens of times. Community activism, government committees, and research projects don’t exactly invite long-term involvement, especially for youth (and the adults who ally with them!) Its really not hard for me to understand why people ask this question all the time.

After all these workshops, panels, and lunchtime conversations I’ve boiled it down to a pretty standard response. Here are the three ways I work to sustain youth involvement, for both young people and adults:

Identify personal investment- In workshops I lay out all the reasons why I do what I do, and then I ask the people I’m with to do the same. We usually share either youth-specific interests or more general concern for social justice. Then I ask people to connect with someone else in the group who shares a different interest (i.e. experiential education + youth researchers) and have them identify their commonalities. At this point people usually connect personally, and I encourage them to talk about why they are each invested in youth involvement. Not only does this build community in the group, I find it also strengthens each person’s personal motiviations.

Build group ability- Working with nonprofits I’ve found that while everyone usually feels capable of doing their job, they don’t acknowledge other peoples’ ability to do their job within the organization. I focus on helping people understand how identifying communitication styles, building team problem-solving ability, and recognizing different leadership strengths in the group actually makes their individual and group ability to engage youth more powerful. A lot of this is done through hands-on activities, but an equal amount is done through debriefing. These discussions are the “center of the onion” where the real flavor comes through.

Focus on the goal- Most people come to this work with the best intention, even when it might not seem that way. I like conversations that refocus on why we do what we do, and everyone acknowledging the common investment and belief everyone has in those goals. This component may involve activities, but its just as likely to be an informal conversation, dyads, or small groups that allow everyone to interact on a personal level. After that I find its important to bring people back together to share their reflections with the larger group.

Its important to have intentional conversations about sustaining youth involvement, with youth and with adults. The conversations can happen with either group individually, or collectively. I’d love to hear what you think are good ways to sustain youth involvement.

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