Youth: Serving to Empower

by LaTroya Hester and Bronwyn Lucas

Youth-serving agencies should engage youth in just about every aspect of their organizations.  While this may seem like an obvious rule of thumb, the reality is that most organizations fall short in this area. In fact, many organizations fail to understand that in order to most effectively serve youth, it is imperative to create meaningful roles for them within the operations and infrastructure of the organization.

It’s easy to get on board with the idea of working closely with the youth your agency serves. Yet, truly allowing youth to have authentic leadership roles within an organization can be challenging. It requires more than simply saving them a symbolic seat on the board.  In order to take full advantage of the contributions youth can make to your organization, it is necessary to construct policies and practices in a way that embraces, respects and utilizes a young person’s skills and input.  It also requires a commitment to changing the way things have always been done in the past.  Youth empowerment must be a deliberate effort on the part of the agency.

Authentic youth empowerment requires organizations to:

  1. Provide its youth with a solid knowledge base so that they may be critically aware of the external and internal issues impacting the organization.
  2. Equip its youth with the skills and resources they need to contribute effectively.
  3. Offer its youth genuine opportunities to become involved in the various aspects of the organization, including setting organizational goals and priorities, evaluation and fundraising

Doing this may be easier for some agencies than others. Here are some things to consider when integrating youth into the fabric of your agency:

  • Avoid tokenism. Young people should be used as more than decorations for your annual report photos. They should be invited into the very infrastructure of your organization. Employ your youth’s interests and talents by giving them useful roles. Youth may serve as voting members of your board, advisory council members, meeting facilitators, or take part in strategic planning for your organization or program. Invite them to help design your marketing materials or review them before they go to print. Ask them to serve on the fundraising committee. Ensure that your policies and procedures do not bar them from easily getting involved.

It is also important that youth are positioned in way that allows your staff and board members to learn from them. Young people should be key participants in decision-making processes whenever possible. Accommodate their school schedules, reward them for their input, and make your office youth-friendly.

  • Be realistic about the areas in which your organization’s youth may become involved. If high levels of confidentiality limit your organization, then find creative ways to engage youth outside of the immediate office space.  Youth can help make presentations in the community, work with local media, or serve as administrators for your social networking site.

Keep in mind, though, that it may be necessary to revise some of your policies so that youth may become involved. If you have a policy in place that doesn’t allow the transportation of youth, consider changing this so that select staff may help your youth participate in agency happenings.

  • Consider paying your youth. One of the clearest ways to communicate one’s value is to compensate them for their time and services. This may seem like a far reach for many organizations. However, part of the process of sharing power with youth is recognizing their contributions. Elevating your youth from volunteers to paid employees helps to do this.   

Bottom Line:

Getting on board with real youth empowerment may seem overwhelming for organizations that are new to the concept.  Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) is an organization that specializes in creating youth-adult partnerships, and can guide your organization through this process. For more information, visit

LaTroya Hester is the Communication Manger with YES! She can be reached at (919) 229-8020.
Bronwyn Lucas is co-founder and Executive Director of YES! She can be reached at (919) 229-8017.

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