Event Spotlights Role of Youth Voices in Addressing Opportunity Youth Needs

Event Spotlights Role of Youth Voices in Addressing Opportunity Youth Needs

More than 100 nonprofit leaders, youth program practitioners, donors, and policymakers gathered on October 19 for Opportunity Youth: A Cross-Border Dialogue. The Baltimore event, co-hosted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, International Youth Foundation, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, spotlighted the vital role of youth in informing—and actively contributing to—efforts to meet the needs of the nearly five million opportunity youth in the United States. 

Youth voices were front and center at the event as four Baltimore City youth consultants shared the findings of their community-based research conducted with the Casey Foundation. Presenters also included participants in a recent (Re)Connecting Youth learning exchange between Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud in Tijuana, Mexico and three Baltimore City agencies. 

Five Recommendations for Reconnecting Youth in Baltimore and Beyond, written by Matthew Hobson for IYF’s blog, emphasizes the importance of gatherings like this to facilitate knowledge sharing and unite efforts to support opportunity youth. His article summarizes five key takeaways from the event. 

  1. Seek solutions beyond cultural differences. Presenters emphasized that youth disconnection in both Mexico and the United States is rooted in similar challenges, including poverty, violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and lack of education and employment opportunities. Such similarities give rise to shared lessons and solutions. 
  2. Meet opportunity youth on their own terms. Participants reinforced the importance of community outreach and taking steps to meet youth—and deliver services—in the places where youth feel welcome and safe. In conducting their research, the Casey Foundation consultants interviewed youth on the streets and in their communities. Similarly, Pro Salud representatives shared the creative strategies they employ to reach youth who are out-of-work and out-of-school, including on the soccer field and at local parks, churches, and community centers. 
  3. Listen to what opportunity youth have to say. Hobson points to panelists’ observations that too often youth are “treated as passive recipients of assistance, rather than capable agents of change.” Cited is Shawn Burnett, a Casey research team member, who spoke to the importance of tapping youth experience and expertise, particularly when it comes to issues related to poverty and urgent needs within their communities.  
  4. Utilize other community members. To reach and support youth who are out-of-work and out-of-school, it’s important to build relationships with caring adults within communities. Youth panel members spoke to identifying and strengthening the capacity of local mentors who excel at establishing trusting relationships with youth. 
  5. Facilitate meaningful youth contribution. Efforts to engage youth voices must move beyond tokenism. Young people need to be provided with opportunities to serve on advisory bodies and participate actively in shaping policies. 

To view the proceedings of the October 19 event, visit: Opportunity Youth: A Cross-Border Dialogue. The full report of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s youth-led research will be released in November. 

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