Through Photos, Young People Share Their Experiences With Generation Work

Posted November 9, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Intricate colored drawing that resembles a flower

Gen­er­a­tion Work™ part­ners are build­ing sup­port­ive rela­tion­ships with young peo­ple, accord­ing to a new study from the non­prof­it research firm Child Trends. The find­ings, col­lect­ed using an inno­v­a­tive tech­nique called pho­tovoice, rein­force the ben­e­fits of Pos­i­tive Youth Devel­op­ment (PYD) — an approach that helps orga­ni­za­tions cre­ate envi­ron­ments where young peo­ple can advance their skills while cul­ti­vat­ing con­nec­tions to school, fam­i­ly, work and community.

Pho­tovoice is a par­tic­i­pa­to­ry research method that encour­ages respon­dents to share pic­tures and reflec­tions about their expe­ri­ences. For this study, Child Trends recruit­ed five young peo­ple from the Gen­er­a­tion Work sites in Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut and Indi­anapo­lis, Indi­ana.

The project sought to shed light on how Gen­er­a­tion Work part­ners are oper­a­tional­iz­ing core PYD prin­ci­ples, such as fos­ter­ing open com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mutu­al respect; cre­at­ing crit­i­cal con­nec­tions across school, com­mu­ni­ty, work and fam­i­ly; and ensur­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to con­tribute and belong. Each young per­son respond­ed to sur­veys, sub­mit­ted pho­tos and par­tic­i­pat­ed in inter­views and focus groups and was com­pen­sat­ed for their time.

Learn more about the pho­tovoice method

By shar­ing pic­tures and reflect­ing on their expe­ri­ences, young peo­ple remain in charge of their own sto­ries,” says Han­nah Lan­tos, research sci­en­tist for Child Trends. This project added a new, more per­son­al touch to the work we’d already been doing to under­stand how Gen­er­a­tion Work sites are imple­ment­ing pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment approaches.”

Com­mon themes emerged from the pho­tovoice prompts, focus groups and inter­views. Among them:

  • Pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships enable young peo­ple to receive indi­vid­u­al­ized atten­tion and feel cared for. Par­tic­i­pants described their pro­gram leads as real­ly con­sis­tent” and relaxed, but super pro­fes­sion­al.” They also not­ed that staff refuse to give up on” young adults enrolled in Gen­er­a­tion Work.
  • The sup­port­ive envi­ron­ments cre­at­ed with­in Gen­er­a­tion Work pro­grams help par­tic­i­pants stay on track. Staff pro­vide resources and sup­port — such as help­ing with resumes, assist­ing with immi­gra­tion fil­ings and help­ing secure long-term hous­ing — that enables par­tic­i­pants to remain focused on their edu­ca­tion and career goals.
  • Young peo­ple feel a sense of belong­ing in their pro­grams. The five par­tic­i­pants described feel­ings of safe­ty, respect and belong­ing when talk­ing about their Gen­er­a­tion Work expe­ri­ences. One young per­son, for exam­ple, recalled danc­ing down the hall­ways when he was in a good mood. This wel­com­ing atmos­phere in pro­gram sites enabled youth to suc­ceed and dream” in new ways.
  • Gen­er­a­tion Work inspires par­tic­i­pants to give back to their com­mu­ni­ties. Sev­er­al par­tic­i­pants sought jobs that would allow them to help oth­ers in the ways they had been helped.
  • Sites need to pri­or­i­tize dis­cus­sions on racial equi­ty in the work­place. Though equi­ty and inclu­sion are core com­po­nents of the Gen­er­a­tion Work ini­tia­tive, few of the pho­tovoice par­tic­i­pants said they’d had explic­it con­ver­sa­tions about racism or ways to nav­i­gate bias, dis­crim­i­na­tion and con­flict in the workplace.

Abi­gail, a 20-year-old moth­er in Indi­anapo­lis, is one of the project’s five youth par­tic­i­pants. After suf­fer­ing the loss of a close friend and falling behind aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, Abi­gail decid­ed to enroll at the Excel Cen­ter, a free pub­lic char­ter school for adults and a key part­ner in Gen­er­a­tion Work. She fin­ished the pro­gram — grad­u­at­ing ear­li­er than she would have in tra­di­tion­al high school — and went on to study nurs­ing at a local com­mu­ni­ty college.

Black and white photo of adult and child shoes

Abigail’s pho­to sub­mis­sions and reflec­tions tell an inspir­ing sto­ry. She’s gained strength from her close rela­tion­ships with staff mem­bers and friends and is deeply grate­ful that her Excel Cen­ter guide took the time to under­stand her per­son­al goals and chal­lenges. When reflect­ing on a pic­ture that she took of her­self wear­ing a but­ter­fly bracelet — a gift from a friend — Abi­gail talked about the sym­bol­ic trans­for­ma­tion of a cater­pil­lar and how she believes that she, too, can become some­thing more accom­plished, beau­ti­ful and strong.”

Butterfly bracelet

It’s impor­tant that any eval­u­a­tion or research done about Gen­er­a­tion Work include the hon­est feed­back of young peo­ple,” says Alli­son Ger­ber, who over­sees the Casey Foundation’s nation­al employ­ment, edu­ca­tion and train­ing work. Their insights can help guide pro­gram improve­ments and reveal blind spots that we need to address, which — in this case — is more inten­tion­al dia­logue about race, bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion in the workplace.”

Go to the Pho­tovoice Study

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