Thaddeus Ferber on Helping Young People Grow, Lead and Thrive

Posted March 11, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Thaddeus Ferber, The Forum for Youth Investment

There’s little public debate: In America, adolescence is described as a challenging time — one starring eye-rolling, angsty and self-absorbed youth.

But Thaddeus Ferber isn’t buying it.

Ferber serves as the executive vice president at The Forum for Youth Investment, a national nonprofit that connects leaders with the ideas, services and networks needed to help all young people get ready for adulthood. In this role, Ferber partners closely with young people and champions evidence-based policies that help communities achieve equity for all youth — especially those who are out of school and unemployed.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Lisa Hamilton recently spoke with Ferber about the upside of adolescence, the crushing toll of inequity during this time period, and the value of adults elevating young people’s voices and then getting out of their way.

A big thank you to Thaddeus Ferber for chatting with us!

Stream this CaseyCast episode on Positive Youth Development

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In this episode on adolescence, you’ll learn

  • What is developmentally unique about adolescence.
  • Why adolescence is the least equitable period of life.
  • The benefits of positive youth development.
  • Three things that matter for young people.
  • How structural racism affects a young person’s access to opportunities.
  • Why young people are well-positioned to drive social change.
  • How The Forum engages leaders in supporting youth and their success.

Conversation clips

In Thaddeus Ferber’s own words…

“We as a society always vastly under appreciate how much young people have to offer.”

“We can invest in young people who can help heal their communities from the inside out. But it comes down to this at the end: Do we have the public and political will to solve the problems that we created?”

“I think one of the most dangerous fallacies we have in this country is the myth of the self-made man.”

“We have all these professions focused on one specific thing that we don't want you to do. Do not get arrested, not get pregnant, not drop out of school. What we don't have is the profession of people who say, ‘I am going to do what helps you develop.’

“There's very few policymakers who see as their job to help improve the quality of child and youth lives.”

Resources and links

About the Podcast

CaseyCast is a podcast produced by the Casey Foundation and hosted by its President and CEO Lisa Hamilton. Each episode features Hamilton talking with a new expert about how we can build a brighter future for kids, families and communities.

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View Transcript

Lisa Hamilton:
From the Annie E. Casey Foundation, I'm Lisa Hamilton and this Casey Cast.

Today, we're discussing how to ensure communities and systems maximize the developmental window of adolescence.

Joining us is Thaddeus Ferber, the Executive Vice President at The Forum for Youth Investment. Thaddeus has spent his career promoting evidence-based policies that incorporate youth voices and help communities achieve equity for all youth, especially those who aren't in school or working.

He's collaborated with leaders on both sides of the political aisle. This includes helping to orchestrate national youth summits for the George W. Bush and Obama administrations and working at the president's Crime Prevention Council during the Clinton administration.

In 1998, Thaddeus joined the Forum, a national nonprofit that worked to connect leaders with the ideas, services and networks needed to help all young people get ready for adulthood.

Welcome, Thaddeus.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Thank you, Lisa. It's great to be here.

Lisa Hamilton:
Well, when people talk about developmental periods for kids, the conversations largely focus on early childhood, but I want us to talk about teenagers. Not always of popular topic, but one that I've come to realize is a group of young people we need to talk about a lot more. What does science and research say about adolescence and why it's such an important part of development?

Thaddeus Ferber:
Well, thank you Lisa. That is absolutely the case. The truth is that disparities in advantage and disadvantage affect us all at every stage of our lives, every day of our lives. So, the whole timeframe is important. We at the Forum for Youth Investment work to improve the odds that all young people are ready for college, work and life ideally by age 21. What we find is, yes, early childhood is… it is incredibly important, but we've also learned that if you just level the playing field for young children and then for the rest of their lives, leave the field slanted against them, the odds are still that too few young people are going to make it to the finish line.

Lisa Hamilton:
So how do you define adolescence? What's the age period where we're talking about here?

Thaddeus Ferber:
We generally talked about 12 to 24 as a big developmental period, and we know that development occurs for different people in different timeframes, so it's hard to put an exact start or end date with us. But it's a time that is rightly getting a lot more attention these days. Particularly, the National Academy of Science has released a big new report summarizing the research and what we know about this, called The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth. So, we really are at a point where we now know a lot more about this population and this developmental stage and so are poised to better respond to the opportunities and challenges that come with working with this population.

Lisa Hamilton:
Why don't you start by telling us what that report or other research tells us about adolescence. Why is it such a trying period for young people and for the adults who are in their lives?

Thaddeus Ferber:
It's trying, but it's also a very wonderful period and an exciting period in so many ways. So, the research really shows that this is a period where can we expand our horizons, when we look beyond our families to the broader world. It's the time when we're developing our identity, our values, our beliefs, our aspirations. It's a time when you become acutely aware — both for good or for bad — of what other people think about you, and it's a time during which the relationships we form or don't form matter a great deal.

It's also a time where young people now have the capacity for self-direction. They can make decisions about their own lives. It's a time that they have the skills and a heightened desire to improve the world around us. So that's one of the things I love most about working with this age group, is it's not something that you do to young people once you're in this stage, it’s doing something that you are doing with them and seeing themselves define the world that they want to see and the role that they wanted to find for themselves within the world really makes it a very rewarding age to work with.

Lisa Hamilton:
Well, I like the way you framed that. The way I asked the question is, how many people talk about adolescence in a very negative high-risk way. But the way that you've described adolescence is totally different. It's about the ways that we are growing and developing during that period of time and makes it exciting, I think, to imagine…We think of little children and the growth that's happening for them. Say something about the way this helps us even change the narrative about teenagers if we understand what's really happening for them in a different way.

Thaddeus Ferber:
The narrative is incredibly important, especially when you layer in race and class into the conversations. It's an age where some young people are feared by adults and others are loved and nourished by adults. So those types of disparities, you don't see as much when you are in an early childhood center where it really just focuses on your family as the unit. But once you reach adolescence, you're expanding and looking beyond your community and it matters, as I said, what people think about you. The biases and stereotypes that continue to persist in national conversations and in our media, those play on young people. So really, it is important to be very mindful about the narrative of how we describe this age, the stage of life and all the good things that come along with it.

Lisa Hamilton:
Often, it leads to certain young people being forgiven for mistakes that they make and risks that they take, and other young people end up in the deep ends of systems that forever, I think, make it difficult for them to have the kinds of productive lives that we want them to have or for people to not see the potential that they may have. So, I think that's really important for us to understand how young people are going through the same developmental period, but the way that we as adults perceive them can have very different consequences in how those young people navigate it or given the supports.

Thaddeus Ferber:
That is extraordinarily true. It's also true that risk in and of itself is a key facet of adolescence. Biologically, this is the time when you need to go out into the greater world and go hunting in earlier times. So biologically, we are predisposed to intentionally go try new things and actually to take risks. Risk taking is an important facet of this period of life, we just need to understand what are the types of risks that young people are going to find when they go out of their doors and are out into this broader community. Some places, the types of risks that you take are very safe and protected and other places, they can have really severe repercussions.

Lisa Hamilton:
But then you also talked about other ways that young people are changing that makes them more influenced by peers or makes them more interested in participating in decision making, and those are all things we can take advantage of.

Thaddeus Ferber:
We as a society always vastly under appreciate how much young people have to offer themselves. So, anytime we go to an event we’ll bring young people to speak at the event and share their perspectives firsthand, and people are always amazed, they're like, "Where did you find these amazing young people?" And we're like, "In any school of the country."

Lisa Hamilton:
Right, they're just regular teenagers.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Regular teenagers who if you ask, "What do you see in your world, what do you like, what changes do you want?" Are going to share things much more eloquently than office of researches ever could.

Lisa Hamilton:
You have described adolescence as the least equitable period of life. What do you mean by that?

Thaddeus Ferber:
A number of things are happening. The first is, you are stepping out into the broader community, and for the first time, you're really acutely aware of what's going on in your community, what's going on in the media, what's going on in the movies that you see. So, it disadvantages the inequities that have always been there. This time of life, you can, for the first time, be exposed to it. Things that your parents had protected you from or you were naive and didn't see, you're now going to come into sharp focus. So unfortunately, for too many young people, the world that they're growing up with isn't a fair and just world. This is the period when, if you didn't already figure that out when you were younger, you are for sure going to figure that out now.

We see the evidence backs this up. I'll give you one quote from the National Academy of Sciences about this.

So, this is the period when young people become increasingly aware and attuned to their social status during adolescence, and institution's policies and practices may reinforce status hierarchies and stereotypes about members of groups that are nondominant or stigmatized in the society.

As you are predisposed to look at a broader horizon and are acutely feeling the status, connection and relationships of, do I belong here or do I not, this is a time that you are going to have to confront some of the severe inequities that exist in our society today.

Lisa Hamilton:
How does that play out in the day to day life of a young person? I've been sheltered until I'm 10 or 11 years old, I don't quite know about inequities in the world, I've become a teenager, and all of a sudden, I can see the stark differences in my neighborhood compared to other neighborhoods or other things. What does it look like for a young person, and how does that impact them?

Thaddeus Ferber:
Sadly, it means that too many of their relationships are punctured with pain.

The best part of my job is working with young people, who are the true leaders of this movement. One that I got to know fairly well over a couple of years came from a very disparaged, a very difficult community that she grew up in. But she was one of the lucky ones. She found a program that was there to help her and helped her not only transform her life but then to give back to her community. So, she was now in college. I ran into her at an event, she was in college.

Now when I asked her how school was going, and she said, "It was a hard semester, Thad, it was a hard semester. Not the classes, the classes were fine, the classes were cool. It was just the normal stuff in my neighborhood." "Like what?" I asked. "Well," she said, "one of my good friends was shot and killed." "I'm sorry," I said. "And another friend died in my lap. He died from a heroin overdose while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. You know,” she said, "It's normal."

To me, we can either continue to turn our backs on these communities that for the most part were created intentionally by people who look like me, white male landowners, that we created to ensure opportunities for our children while we were isolating other people's children in specific neighborhoods so the problems that we caused don't spill over to affect us.

So, we can invest in young people who can help heal their communities from the inside out. But it comes down to this at the end, do we have the public and political will to solve the problems that we created, or are we going to be okay with that level of human tragedy being normal?

Lisa Hamilton:
And repeated over and over again in so many neighborhoods and with so many young people.

That is a heartbreaking story. Unfortunately, as we try to help young people get the education and employment opportunities they need in this country, so often people fail to realize the type of serious trauma and challenge young people are dealing with every day. So that story makes me want to ask you about the millions of kids that experience trauma. How do we understand how that impacts learning? That we can't imagine there is an after-school program that's going to help a young person overcome that kind of pain and trauma in their lives.

Thaddeus Ferber:
So, let me just start with some good news. The good news is humans are extraordinarily resilient. There's a whole body of research, resiliency research, where they try to figure out, isolate what was the magic thing that helps some people persevere in the face of adversity as others don't. A very effective researcher who really delved into this, Ann Masten, after researching it throughout her career, she ended up publishing a book called Ordinary Magic. What she found is all humans have extraordinary ability for resilience, and that, in fact, there's no one single thing that can happen to a person that will guarantee that they don't make it through to the other side.

She looked at like death of a parent or forced into child military campaign, or the worst of the worst. If it was just one thing, they would still be able to come back from it. What people weren't able to come back for is multiple things. If you start looking at multiple bad things happening in single person's life, that's where you start seeing all the outcomes drop off the cliff.

Lisa Hamilton:
So, talk about what young people in this country are dealing with. Are they faced with one thing or many things?

Thaddeus Ferber:
Unfortunately, with the structural racism we have baked into our country, it's far too likely. You can point to communities, that's not hard to find, and be pretty sure that a lot of the young people are going to have had not just one, what's called adverse life experiences, but several of them.

It's for this reason that we really need to be attuned to cycles and processes that will turn one bad thing into many. So, for example, a family…parents getting divorced, if that's the only thing, people are still going to be fine. But if they get divorced, the dad doesn't provide child support, so then the mom's in poverty, has to move to a different place that they can afford, which disrupts the friendships with the friends, you've now turned one issue into five.

What we're finding in the new brain research is really the dynamic interplay between your brain, your behaviors and your environment. We, in America, are attuned to think that it's all about your brain, and your brain decides what your behaviors are going to be. What we actually find is both are true. The brain defines your behaviors, but your behaviors and your environment literally change-

Lisa Hamilton:
Your brain.

Thaddeus Ferber:
You can clone two babies, put one in one community, one in another, at end of adolescence, do brain scans, and you literally will have different brains at the time.

Lisa Hamilton:
Wow. Say that again, Thad, because I think… As you said, people really can't imagine that that's the case.

Thaddeus Ferber:
I think one of the most dangerous fallacies we have in this country is the myth of the self-made man. We like to pretend that nothing about the environment, it's just, you were born as this amazing person, and that's why you now lead a multibillion-dollar company. None of that's true. It's baked in, it's very, very hard to convince the public that that's not true. They're very conditioned to believe that, and that's one of the things we've got to figure out, is how do we get people to understand that no, there is this greater interplay that happens. I'll dig into one I particularly am attuned to, is a cycle where… Let's go with risk-taking.

Lisa Hamilton:
Okay.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Right? Risk-taking, you take a risk…that your brain is supposed to be taking a risk, but you're doing it in a school, that then calls the police, who then takes that risk and puts you into the system. So suddenly, that one thing you did became a problem, that then that action that they take of putting you in the system, then makes you feel less safe, less that you belong, less like that you matter. That in turn is going to trigger brain chemistry that locks that in and reinforces that and is actually going to get you to act up even more.

Lisa Hamilton:
Increases the likelihood that something like that is going to happen again.

Thaddeus Ferber:
That's right.

Lisa Hamilton:
Because you're now told that's who you are.

Thaddeus Ferber:
That's right. That affects your brain, and your brain is going to continue to act in that way. I'll try and get back to a positive point, because I try to be positive about this, is the opposite is also true. If you can flip the script and treat a young person with the sense of warmth and belonging and connectedness, that's going to change how their brain operates, that's going to improve the types of behaviors that they exhibit, that's then going to get more people to want to spend time with them and get them into productive environments. So that's the cycles that turn from one thing going into good way or one thing bad way. That's what changes things, not just one thing that happens in your life, but patterns of things that happen in your life.

Lisa Hamilton:
I assume that what you're describing, in a practical way, is something we call positive youth development in the field. Could you explain more what that is? I've also heard you talk about those three things young people need, you just mentioned them. It's important, I think, for listeners to hear you articulate what those three things are and why they are so important for young people.

Thaddeus Ferber:
So, even just the idea of talking about people's positive development is in itself a big shift.

Lisa Hamilton:
Radical.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Radical shift. We have professions designed to help you increase your test scores, and then we're trying to help you not get arrested, not get pregnant, not drop out of school. We have all these professions focused on one specific thing that we don't want you to do.

Lisa Hamilton:
Avoid the negative.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Avoid the negative, control your behavior. What we don't have is the profession of people who say, "I am going to do what helps you develop. Some after-school programs, some youth workers do this work, but not enough. There's a really amazing youth worker, Joni Holifield, who works here, and she put this on her Facebook feed about the work that her program…or the things that our program has achieved.

One, a 17-year-old decides not to participate in retaliatory gun violence and instead throws the weapon in a place where it'll never be recovered. In his own words, "I'm a better person now." A 19-year-old donates $223 back to the organization, Heart's Smiles out of her own money because, in her words, "I want to sow a seed back into the place that helped me before I got on my feet. You all spend millions on Uber rides for us so we can get home safe, and I want to be proud of the reason someone else can get home safe as well."

Lisa Hamilton:
Wow.

Thaddeus Ferber:
A 16-year-old realizes that for the first time, her family can't afford to host Thanksgiving dinner. Someone helps out, someone helps her family get the food, and then she immediately takes a portion of that food and brings it to another young person who has no food either. She gets a ride to deliver the food at 11 p.m. because, in her words, "I know what it feels like to be without, and whenever I'm blessed, it's my job to bless someone else."

It's amazing how few of the vast number of professionals who are charged with spending their time interacting with young people would see any of those three things as their job, and it needs to be.

Lisa Hamilton:
There is the positive outcomes we want to see-

Thaddeus Ferber:
That's right.

Lisa Hamilton:
…for young people. The caring and compassion demonstrated by those examples are the thing I'm always struck by when I'm around young people. Even those who have experienced significant disadvantage, their first goal seems always to be, "What can I do to change the world that would make another young person not have to go through this, and what can I do to help others who might be experiencing this at this moment?" Learning about brain science for young people, compassion is actually one of the qualities that most presents itself in adolescence, which I think is fascinating.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Yeah. It's not for coincidence that all great social movements come from young people. And it comes from the combination of the altruism in this age of life, and in a good way, the risks you're willing to take. You are willing now-

Lisa Hamilton:
Oh, interesting.

Thaddeus Ferber:
…to see the world you want, and you're not old and feel protective the way I feel protective of my family now. You're young and are willing to take risks. You're perfectly primed to say, "I'm going to stand up and do what I believe in."

Lisa Hamilton:
Oh, that's a fascinating way of understanding that positive part of risk taking, that young people are willing to risk their own personal safety or comfort in order to create a different world. That is such a wonderful outcome-

Thaddeus Ferber:
That's right.

Lisa Hamilton:
...from that. I want to go back to this question that asked you about the three things that matter for young people, because I think they're so important for all of us to understand if we want young people to have better outcomes.

Thaddeus Ferber:
So, as we travel the country and look for the places and programs that young people said, "This changed my life," we increasingly would see, again and again, three things. They would say that, "I feel safe," they'll say that, "I feel like I belong," and they said, "I feel like I matter." When you go into a program, I hear them say, "Well, this feels like a family. This is a place that feels like I can make a difference. This is the one place in my life I feel safe to be who I really am." If you hear them say those three sentences, odds are you've found a really effective program and place for you to grow and develop and thrive.

It's not just about young people, it's really about part of the human condition. We find work with employers, finding these thin three factors. There was an organization, a company that was covered in the book, The Culture Code, that was having a trouble with staff retention. So, all they did was change one hour of their standard orientation, one hour instead of just talking at their employees, they said, "Well, we want to hear about you. Tell us about you. What are you like as a person? What do you want to be in this world and in an organization like this?"

That's it. They changed nothing else. Seven months later, they went and checked the staff retention based on that one hour change, and there was a 200 and, I think, 27 percent change in who is and is not in the company just because of that one hour where they said, "I'm going to ask you about you." That's going to trigger your sense of safety, that you belong, that you matter, and has a dramatic impact. You see it also, believe it or not, in the FBI's training of hostage negotiators…

Lisa Hamilton:
Really?

Thaddeus Ferber:
...in fact. They are trained to find ways to forge a relationship with the person on the other side of the phone, and the techniques that they teach are very similar to the things that Joni does to build relationships with the young people. You have to understand, when you're talking about young people who've never felt like they belong, always have their guard up, never feel safe, it takes a lot to get them to really understand that with me in this place, in this environment, you can let it go.

Lisa Hamilton:
And be yourself.

Thaddeus Ferber:
And be yourself.

Lisa Hamilton:
Oh, that's beautiful. Well, you talked about some of the young people that you have met in your work. I would like to talk more about the sort of network of young people that you are working with and how you see them. What are they excited about? How do they want to see the world different in the future?

Thaddeus Ferber:
Again, it's the best part of my job to get to speak to these people. Really, they are the leaders of this movement. A huge part of societal change is it comes down to shifting power dynamics. So, we're always very aware of, us as a national organization, need to be very intentional about, not owning or claiming this space, but opening up and getting out of the way and letting the young people go where they know that things need to happen.

So, one group that we work with a lot is called Opportunity Youth United. So, these are young people who at one point in the critical 16- to 24-year-old period were both out of school and out of work for an extended time, a population we now refer to as opportunity youth. So, we work with this network of opportunity youth who were the lucky ones who did find a program that could help them get to the other side and are now working to keep the door open for the ones who come next. So, like the person who got a Thanksgiving meal and then immediately-

Lisa Hamilton:
Pay it forward.

Thaddeus Ferber:
…I'm going to give part to someone who has even less than I do. So, we've been working with them, and they have been passionately coming here to DC to talk with their members of Congress about the importance of programs supporting opportunity youth and working with them. For two years, they've been able to secure $195 million of increased federal funding for programs that serve opportunity youth.

Lisa Hamilton:
That's incredible.

Thaddeus Ferber:
That cannot happen without young people leading the way.

Lisa Hamilton:
That's fantastic. I understand the forum also has a network called Spark Action that's online. Talk about Spark Action.

Thaddeus Ferber:
So we wanted to make sure that young people have a chance to take action on whatever issues they are aware of. So, we want to make sure that they have all the tools they need to craft their narrative to tell their story and also to take action on the issues that they care about. Young people are altruistic. It's hard to find an issue that they're not passionate about. But certainly, there's always a lot of passion around the environment, a lot of passion around immigration and immigration rights, a lot of passion around what's happening at the border these days. But we often try and create a space where the young people themselves can define where they want this country to go. I deeply believe that they are going to be the ones who get us in a better place than we are to them.

Lisa Hamilton:
That's fantastic. Well, I know that the forum does incredible work all over the country. I'd like to give you an opportunity to talk about how your organization both helps in this direct work with young people. But also, how are you helping…The adults who need to do their work differently and create different policies for young people. How are you helping support this kind of transformation in our systems and policies?

Thaddeus Ferber:
We as an organization, we take what's known about child and adolescent development and bring it into transform programs, partnerships and policies. So, programs, we go in, and we have a youth program quality assessment that can say, "To what extent is your program doing the things that lead to young people feeling like they're safe, that they belong, and they matter?"

Lisa Hamilton:
Good.

Thaddeus Ferber:
With partnerships, we go in and find that when you're trying to support child and youth development, there is no one organization or sector who can do it alone. So, we bring communities together and put up a big picture of, look at the entirety of young people's lives. None of you can claim to do it all yourself. How are you aligning to make sure that whatever it is that the young person's looking for, they will be able to find?

And then in policies, just as there's very few people whose job it is to do what Joni does, there's very few policymakers whose job it is to…or see as their job to help improve the quality of child and youth lives. They think in terms of the jobs they have, which are silo specific. I'm in charge of juvenile justice policies, I'm in charge of child welfare policies, I'm in charge of education policies.

But where they come together at the end of the day to jointly hold themselves accountable for improving the quality of young people's lives, that doesn't happen on its own and it doesn't happen very often. We work with a network of what we refer to as children's cabinets at the local and state level. So, this is when the mayor or the governor has the insight of, "All right, I need you all as the secretaries to give me one cohesive plan. I'm sick of getting one youth employment plan, one-

Lisa Hamilton:
Education reform plan.

Thaddeus Ferber:
...education reform plan or one substance abuse reform plan." These are the same dang-

Lisa Hamilton:
Kids.

Thaddeus Ferber:
...kids. Right?

Lisa Hamilton:
Exactly.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Shouldn't you have one strategy? If you can get that to come together and you can get them all to say, "You know what, we're not going to have any of these problems if we just did a better job of giving young people what they need in the first place, and see, that's our job as policy makers, is to help families get what they need to raise resilient kids, to make sure that all of our us are saying wherever that young person goes in their community, I want to make sure that they feel safe, they belong, and they matter." Very few policy makers see that as a job or mission, but if they did, all the other problems will dissipate. Even more so, then we'd see the positive change that can happen from giving young people what they need to transform, not just their lives but the lives of those around them.

Lisa Hamilton:
You raised an important point earlier about what does it take to change public will on these issues. I'd like to turn that back to you and ask you, what do you think it's going to take to have our leaders really put youth and child wellbeing at the top of the agenda?

Thaddeus Ferber:
So, I like to be positive, but on this one, we are just plain losing. The narrative that's out there about young people is still very disparaging, especially of young men of color. They are still treated with huge stereotypes. Public understanding about the population… I'll tell you a survey that John Powell cited.

They surveyed the general public and asked them one of two questions. One question was, should young people who are in prison have the right to get a high school and college degree?

Lisa Hamilton:
Okay.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Very shockingly, people said no. By and large, you shouldn't. They came to the question number two, should young people in prison be required to get a high school or college, and or college degree? And people said, "Hell yes." That's not a policy question, that's like the way-

Lisa Hamilton:
People think.

Thaddeus Ferber:
People think. The way people think. It takes changing that. Changing the narrative takes far greater resources than the field has at its disposal. It's some of the most important work. The field creates great, amazing, compelling content that tells these stories in a way that's respectful and no one sees them. So, doing that mass communication is to get people to see these narratives. I will give you one… I say I like to be positive, and I do have a good story on this front that I will share with an ad council campaign called The Grads of Life Campaign.

Lisa Hamilton:
Yes, Casey supported that.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Yes, and I'm glad that they do. Because it is extraordinary what they've done. I think it was the first ad council campaign that wasn't focused on the general public. It was actually focused on the people who make hiring decisions.

Lisa Hamilton:
Right, employers.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Employers, they said, "Well, can we craft messages that employers to shift from seeing the hiring nontraditional youth as a liability to an asset?" So, they started crafting what they called the Seven Second Campaign. Because there's a stat that most hiring managers glance at our resume for all of seven seconds before they put it in the yes or no pile. So, we said, "Can we help young people share their stories?" What you find in working with these young people is they may not have a high school degree, but oh my, have they had life experiences and level of maturity and level of grit and strength-

Lisa Hamilton:
And problem-solving skills that none of us could conceive of.

Thaddeus Ferber:
That's right. That's right.

Lisa Hamilton:
How do you get from here to there with five buses and two trains?

Thaddeus Ferber:
So, they were able to align up enough of the pro bono sharing of the resources that not only were these amazing powerful pieces created, but they were seen. The percentage of employers who said, "Yes, I've seen those ads, and yes, they make a difference," is… We need that kind of stuff all the time, and it's… This is the one example I can point to where we've really gotten the scale of the narrative out to a broad enough audience.

Lisa Hamilton:
Well, that's great. Well, it gives us a direction to keep focusing on how do we help, not just those who are making policy decisions or our youth workers working on the front line, but how do we help the public understand this work? Because as the public goes, there go our policymakers.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Absolutely.

Lisa Hamilton:
I think that's important work for us to continue to do, to make sure that everybody understands the potential of young people, that they understand the science that tells us how we can do better and that we are all contributing to helping our young people have the lives that they deserve. We are grateful for our partnership with The Forum for Youth Investment because you're on the front lines of trying to help all of us do this work better. We are grateful for your leadership.

Thaddeus Ferber:
Oh, we are grateful for you and the Foundation, and we're especially grateful for the young people themselves who are providing the leadership and pointing the way. We all do what we can to get behind them and support the work that they're doing.

Lisa Hamilton:
I think you're absolutely right. Well, thank you so much, Thad, for joining us. I want to thank our listeners for joining us as well.

If you've enjoyed today's conversation, recommend CaseyCast to a friend. You can subscribe on Apple Podcast, Stitcher and SoundCloud. To learn more about Casey and the work of our guest, you can find our show notes at aecf.org/podcast.

We also invite you to subscribe to our newsletter at aecf.org/newsletters.

Until next time, I wish all of America's kids and all of you a bright future.

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