Leaders can learn to engage youth

There are many resources available to leaders to assist them in having meaningful engagement with youth.

According to 4-H Volunteer Information Series, youth ages 5-19 make up approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population. With one quarter of the population represented by youth, there are many opportunities for youth involvement in leadership roles that communities could and should promote. It is increasingly difficult for organizations and government entities to find new faces for leadership positions.

Research shows that youth who first volunteer as children are three times more likely to volunteer as adults, according to a University of Nevada Fact Sheet. Organizations should have youth/adult teams that define their structure and resources are available to assist government and nonprofit groups. In order to be effective, the group must first commit to the following:

  • Adults must be open to sharing both responsibility and authority.
  • Youth must accept responsibility and show follow-through.
  • Youth and adults should find ways to work together effectively and actively communicate through situations of conflict.
  • Preconceived notions of both groups should be discussed and worked through for effective teamwork to occur.

Government groups can use resources from The Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute), which is a special entity within the National League of Cities (NLC). The YEF Institute completed a yearlong process of research, interviews and dialogue with city leaders, and brought together the strongest theory and the best practices to provide guidance for key elements that make youth engagement in government meaningful and sustainable. Authentic Youth Civic Engagement-A Guide for Municipal Leaders helps local elected officials and other city leaders address each of the critical elements of Authentic Youth Civic Engagement (AYCE).

In addition, The Innovation Center and National 4-H Council curricula on utilizing Youth-Adult Partnerships: “Creating Youth-Adult Partnerships” and “Building Community: A Toolkit for Youth and Adults in Charting Assets and Creating Change” are great resources for communities to jumpstart the process of engaging youth on local boards.

The Michigan State University Extension Leadership and Community Engagement team also offers training for improved effectiveness in several areas, including volunteer board development, communicating through conflict, meeting management and facilitation skills development, and organizational strategic visioning and planning.

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