Early Lessons in Engaging Youth and Adults in Community Change Efforts

Posted June 16, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
An older black woman sits as a member of a circle, talking to its other members. A young black man listening to her speak.

What does it take for young peo­ple and adults to work togeth­er and make change in their com­mu­ni­ties? In 2022, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion began explor­ing ways to bet­ter engage youth and adults in work­ing togeth­er to improve their communities.

The effort aims to give Casey grantees, part­ners and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers an impor­tant voice with­in the Foundation’s com­mu­ni­ty change efforts. To achieve this, it posi­tions youth and adult com­mu­ni­ty part­ners in cre­at­ing and imple­ment­ing tools and resources for improv­ing youth and adult partnerships.

Engag­ing Grantees in Com­mu­ni­ty Change

With tech­ni­cal assis­tance from a non­prof­it inter­me­di­ary, Youth­prise, Casey host­ed lis­ten­ing and learn­ing ses­sions with sev­en grantees:

Ses­sion par­tic­i­pants ana­lyzed the cur­rent state of youth and adult part­ner­ships with­in com­mu­ni­ty change ini­tia­tives and defined the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties inher­ent in this work.

Par­tic­i­pants also dis­cussed strate­gies for:

  • bal­anc­ing pow­er dynam­ics between adults and young people;
  • build­ing youth-adult part­ner­ships that ben­e­fit both young peo­ple and their communities;
  • com­pen­sat­ing youth part­ners to sup­port increased equi­ty; and
  • pro­vid­ing lan­guage train­ing and sup­port for adult partners.

Get­ting this ground­work right is impor­tant, accord­ing to Traci Broady, a senior asso­ciate with the Casey Foun­da­tion. Through clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion, shared goals and a com­mit­ment to equi­ty, part­ners can cre­ate last­ing rela­tion­ships that lift up mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tions across generations.”

Ear­ly Lessons From the Lis­ten­ing and Learn­ing Sessions

The ses­sions yield­ed impor­tant insights on how young peo­ple and adults can work bet­ter togeth­er. This advice spans six points:

  1. Stop­ping and lis­ten­ing. Adult lead­ers must dis­pel neg­a­tive stereo­types and false nar­ra­tives around young peo­ple — par­tic­u­lar­ly youth from mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties — and be will­ing to step aside, when nec­es­sary, to allow young peo­ple’s voic­es to be heard.
  2. Empow­er­ing young peo­ple. Young peo­ple should be iden­ti­fied as hav­ing pow­er and be com­pen­sat­ed for their exper­tise. Adult lead­ers should view lis­ten­ing to young peo­ple as essen­tial to under­stand­ing their needs and mak­ing informed decisions.
  3. Nur­tur­ing grow­ing part­ner­ships. Expand­ing capac­i­ty for youth and adult part­ner­ships requires access to sup­port, resources and train­ing in areas such as racial equi­ty, skill devel­op­ment and research.
  4. Devel­op­ing shared goals and met­rics for suc­cess. Youth and adult lead­ers should estab­lish qual­i­ta­tive approach­es for mea­sur­ing progress, such as feed­back loops, assess­ments that are acces­si­ble to young peo­ple and a shared def­i­n­i­tion of success
  5. Uti­liz­ing gov­ern­ment part­ners. Part­ner­ships must also look at how orga­ni­za­tions can work with local law­mak­ers or gov­ern­ment offi­cials to improve strat­e­gy and pro­gram design.
  6. Engag­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Foun­da­tions can help advance inter­gen­er­a­tional com­mu­ni­ty change efforts by engag­ing both orga­ni­za­tions and young peo­ple, assess­ing com­mu­ni­ty needs and ensur­ing that ini­tia­tives address these needs.

Putting Learn­ing Into Practice

The lis­ten­ing and learn­ing ses­sions — and the insights they gen­er­at­ed — informed the cre­ation of a tool kit that pro­vides lead­ers across mul­ti­ple sec­tors with a frame­work for access­ing and advanc­ing youth and adult engage­ment efforts to dri­ve com­mu­ni­ty-led solutions.

Four orga­ni­za­tions will begin using this tool kit in sum­mer 2023. These orga­ni­za­tions, which will be select­ed through an RFP process, must show a com­mit­ment to deep­en­ing youth and adult engage­ment strate­gies with­in a larg­er com­mu­ni­ty change initiative.

Learn About an Inter­gen­er­a­tional Strat­e­gy for Com­mu­ni­ty Change

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