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Engage youth, families and community members in solutions

– building their capacity in the full range of action strategies
September 2, 2011

We’ve all heard youth and parents voice their opinions at public gatherings – a youth summit, a school board meeting, a protest. That’s admirable, but what changed because of their involvement?


For the kind of fundamental change that you are seeking now, you need true engagement.

That means youth, families and community members having meaningful, regular involvement. That involvement goes beyond providing input, to being active in the work: brainstorming, identifying goals and carrying out solutions.

This kind of engagement ensures that solutions are crafted with the voices of those who are affected, that the efforts take deeper root, and that a wider range of players develop their leadership skills – be it a local business owner, a parent looking to improve safety or a teenager who wants to improve her neighborhood.

For an introduction to this standard, and examples of how national and local partners are putting these ideas into action, check out this webinar, Engaging Youth, Families and Community Leaders as Changemakers.

Here are resources that address common questions:

We’d like to involve youth, but don’t know how.

Start out by reading Core Principles for Engaging Young People in Community Change. The principles are important but simple concepts for putting the idea of youth engagement into practice. They can be implemented in a wide range of organizations, including schools, youth organizations, community centers and groups already focused on community change.

We know this work is easier said than done. This study, Youth-Adult Partnerships in Public Action: Principles, Organizational Culture and Outcomes, takes youth engagement from theoretical to practical. Learn effective organizational and management practices that can help any organization or collaboration advance their youth engagement efforts.

SparkAction’s Youth Voices page highlights young people’s experiences and ideas, and keeps the youth field informed of ways that young people can be a voice for change. Check this site regularly for inspiring stories and ideas on ways to promote youth engagement in your community.

The Forum for Youth Investment has helped several communities convene youth panels to discuss school reform, and used that experience to write a Primer on Creating Effective Youth Panels. The report takes you through a series of steps in considering and convening youth panels, which can be applied to any issue of youth concern.

If you are interested in mobilizing youth voices to change education, look no further than Youth Organizing for Education Change. This Forum report shows what can happen when adults create expectations that young people be both informed as educational consumers and engaged as change-makers.

Pay attention to what you say: We know that working together to make change requires common ground and a common language. Check out the Creating Good Schools: Observation and Discussion Tool to help young people and adults develop a common language when talking about how to improve schools. The toolkit includes a self-assessment, an observation guide and suggested discussion questions.

You can also form a permanent youth council: a body made up of youth who advise high-level decision makers and elected officials. Such councils, says the National League of Cities, are “a popular and effective way to get more youth involved in solving local problems and more actively engaged in the community.” This report from the Forum, Building Effective Youth Councils, explains the rationale behind them and the keys to making them effective.

How do we get parents involved?

Try the Parent Engagement Toolkit, developed by America’s Promise Alliance (a Ready by 21 National Partner). Designed to engage parents in dropout prevention, you can apply the ideas and examples in this toolkit to organize effective parent engagement for a broad range of child and youth issues.

Tell us more about community involvement.

United Way Worldwide (the Ready by 21 Signature Partner) put community engagement front and center in Voices for the Common Good: America Speaks Out on Education. The report tells of aspirations, concerns and actions in communities across the country, gleaned from covenings held in local United Ways, focus groups and a national poll.


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