This first appeared on YWCA of Greater Cleveland on August 8th, 2014.
By Kate Lodge
Recently, several of us were in Chicago to meet with others from around the country on the issue of youth engagement. At the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative National Summit on Authentic Youth Engagement, we asked questions: Engage which youth? For what are they to be engaged? And why?
I already know and believe that youth engagement is a critical component in helping to drive change within systems. I believe it so much that I have the mantra on my wall, Nothing about Us without Us. As we bring together community from different systems to improve outcomes for youth in those transition years, our efforts are informed and deepened by those young people who are beneficiaries of the systems meant to help and protect them.
For youth, one of the benefits that they have expressed to me is that they have a chance to be heard and to make a difference for those who are coming behind them .
The paradigm shifts from the youth being “client” to becoming “expert”. Youth are experts on their own experience and their voice ought to be heard in their own staffings, in their judicial hearings, within their peer youth groups, with their case managers, and most definitely, in all the work around system change!
When youth are engaged, they make connections. Exponentially. Their connections become lifelines in a world that is sometimes difficult to navigate.
For me, when I am engaged with youth, I remember the reason I am involved with this work in the first place. Raw youth resilience in the face of hardship is inspiring to me. Plus, I think I find the honesty refreshing. I already knew I was a nerd, but being teased about it again makes me feel like I am on track and doing something right.
Kate Lodge is a project director at A Place 4 Me.