The Value of Youth Voice

In my ongoing search for foundation funding to support CommonAction, I am constantly find that nonprofits are asked to expound on the “value” of their program. A course I took on grantwriting and a lot of books about foundations say that “value” in this case is a code word that implies economic worth. What is the value of youth voice?

Our society alternates in the way it sees young people, fluctuating from consumer to ward to student to truant to outright criminal. The whole time so many youth are drawn to these flames like moths, compelled to behave one way or another through the influence of schooling, television or popular culture. The alternatives are cast in a variety of lights, and depending on the circumstance, community service can be a punishment or a reward; activism can be heroic or demonic; self-expression can be intrusive or releasing. Perhaps most confusing, sometimes each can be the other, simultaneously.

The value of youth voice goes far beyond any economic indicators or social factors; instead, it jabs right at the heart of possibility and potential that is far beyond the grasp of any measurable outcomes. That is awesome, and daunting, particularly while I’m trying to secure funding that will allow CommonAction to work directly with young people to open up these possibilities.

For now I will concentrate on the qualitative value of youth voice:

  • Greater self-confidence and self-esteem;
  • Increasing sense of worthfulness;
  • Increasing feeling of power;
  • A consistent experience of being taken seriously;
  • An increasing capacity to function well in the world;
  • A growing positive self-concept;
  • Increasing constructive acting out;
  • Increasing self-awareness in acting out, and;
  • Increasing feeling of belonging and engagement.

Maybe I will delve into the quantitative value as well:

  • Increasing percentages of participation
  • Diminishing negative perceptions of youth among general population
  • Increasing likelihood of return involvement
  • Growing awareness among adults in the general population of the value of youth voice
  • Decreasing “engagement gaps” among various socio-economic groups
  • Increasing frequency of opportunities for youth voice
  • Heightened respect for youth voice among general population
  • Increasing returns from youth voice opportunities

However, I am still having a difficult time trying to wrap my head around the authentic value of youth voice. Any suggestions?

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