By Deb Bicknell
Youth and adults working together to make positive change in the world; a beautiful vision, a creative and powerful solution to solving complex problems, a worthy endeavor and not always as easy as it sounds. Being able to work together effectively to create change within any group of people can be challenging and often when groups of youth and adults try and do this it can be like two worlds colliding. Youth may feel misunderstood or like they are tokens of adult processes. Adults may feel unsure about how to work with youth in a way that gets “the job done” and also honors youth voice and needs. Take a peek at the conversation below for a few thoughts on how to create partnerships that work.
Q: What is a youth/adult partnership that you have been involved in that worked? Why do you think it worked?
Youth: In high school I was part of the school based health center outreach group and I worked in partnership with other youth and our advisor. This partnership worked because we had really open and strong communication.
Adult: Working with youth at the Maine Youth Action Network to do trainings and run events. The partnerships worked because we were willing to share power and to offer youth skills they needed in order to be able to do the work and to share their voice.
Youth: I would tell them to go for it. Go in there and be yourself, you are the future of today. You are the next person who is going to impact the world.
Q: What is a good way for adults interested in involving youth to reach out to youth in their community?
Youth: Have informal meetings to see what the youth’s needs and concerns are and let them know they have the power to create change.
Adult: Send out or make personal invitations to youth you know or ask adults who work with youth to do so. Young people often don’t know about opportunities and even if they do they don’t feel comfortable joining in so having personal invitations can be really helpful.
Youth: Pose a forum or use time and resources that they use, when you open it up to a group you give everyone their voice. Don’t use complicated surveys, frankly they just don’t work.
Q: What do you think is the biggest barrier in youth and adult collaboration? How do you think we can overcome it?
Youth: I think the biggest barrier is a lack of communication and closed minds. In order to transform those things, both youth and adults would need to make a commitment to keep their minds open and their communication strong and clear.
Adult: I think that the biggest barrier is that often adults don’t think to include youth. We often have ideas about things that young people can and can’t do or should or should not be involved in and those preconceived notions can get in the way. Starting to shift the way we think and the ways we invite youth in is a great first step to challenging this dynamic.
Youth: It’s all about language. Body language, your language as an adult. If you start using big terms or stand in a power stance or you come dressed in business attire you throw up a huge barrier.
Q: What is one thing you would tell a young person interested in partnering with adults in creating positive change?
Youth: I would tell youth that partnering with adults to create change is really worth it and that they have the power to create some really amazing change together.
Adult: I would tell a young person that if they don’t share their voice and their talents then no one else can. It is really worth it and you are really valuable. If you can’t find an adult to support you who you trust, trust yourself, ask questions and keep coming back. You will get there.
Youth: I would tell them go for it. Go in there and be yourself, you are the future of today. You are the next person who is going to impact the world. You can do this. Even if you walk into a room and you are surrounded by adult, make it work. Work the scene and make it happen for you. They will listen to you if you make your voice heard.
Q: What is your best piece of advice to an adult interested in involving youth in a volunteer project or some sort of community change effort?
Youth: My advice would be to never underestimate the power you and the power youth have to create change, and always be open to new ideas.
Adult: Be willing to lend a hand and reach out to any and all youth who are interested. Young people have so much to offer and once they feel needed and know that someone will generally listen to them. Remember that youth may need a hand but not for you to do it for them.
Youth: Be like Nike and just do it. If you make the investment your returns will be great.
This is just a snip it of some ideas and thoughts connected to youth and adult collaboration. There are lots of resources and opportunities at the Maine Youth Action Network (MYAN) to learn more about this topic as supporting youth and adults to work together to create positive change in the world is central to our work. Visit www.myan.org to learn more.
Deb Bicknell is the Training and Projects Coordinator at Maine Youth Action Network(MYAN) and a Guest Blogger.