In early September, TNOYS kicked off the first in-person meeting of our new Young Adult Leadership Council (YALC), the latest in our efforts to elevate youth voice in our work and within the organizations in our network. The initial membership of the YALC includes eight youth and young adults from TNOYS member organizations, who traveled to Austin from across the state for the two-day meeting on Sept. 7 and 8. There, they got to know each other and TNOYS, planned their goals for the group, and learned about how to advocate for the issues that matter to them.
YALC members are young adults between the ages of 18 to 25 who have experience with foster care, homelessness, juvenile justice system involvement, or other at-risk situations, and who have a demonstrated interest in or potential for leadership or advocacy. TNOYS members nominated the YALC participants and provide an adult sponsor to help support their engagement in the group – participating member organizations include Angel Reach, Cal Farley’s, The Ebby House, SAFE Alliance, and Salvation Army, and participating individual members include Shannon Bloesch and Dr. Sarah Narendorf. Through formal engagement in the YALC, the youth and young adult participants will be able to play a role in guiding TNOYS’ work and influence the direction of youth services in Texas.
TNOYS has long involved youth in our work as co-trainers, policy advocates, and in other key roles, and the YALC represents another step toward incorporating youth voice even further into our work. We know it is an important goal to work toward, as research and practice-based evidence suggests youth-adult partnerships and the opportunity to have a voice strengthen outcomes for young people and make services more effective.
The Positive Youth Development approach, which views youth as resources not problems, is particularly relevant to the YALC. According to Karen Pittman, an originator of this approach, helping young people become “problem free” is not enough. Adults must engage with youth and offer them leadership opportunities so they can become “fully prepared” for adulthood and civic participation.
In keeping with this approach, the first YALC meeting had a strong focus on allowing the youth to determine the goals of the group and learn tools and strategies to achieve those goals. During the meeting, the YALC members developed their communications and advocacy skills with the help of guest speaker Ashley Harris, who has a background in policy advocacy on foster care issues. Ashley led the YALC members in creating individual bios, to help them tell their own personal stories in a way that brings to life the issues they have experienced and care about. She also shared with them the key principles of advocacy, and led them in an exercise of how to craft a message to persuade decision-makers. YALC members chose to focus the group’s work on issues facing youth in foster care since it is proven that youth aging out of foster care are often susceptible to other situations like youth homelessness, mental health issues, and juvenile justice.
Charles Batiste, a YALC member from Houston, described some of the highlights of the meeting and his takeaways as follows: “We had hands-on advocacy training where I learned the importance of and ways to engage, strategize, and truly advocate for youth. This experience was even more inspiration to make changes in my community starting one policy at a time.”
TNOYS has many opportunities coming up for YALC members and other youth to put these advocacy skills to use, especially as we approach the upcoming Texas Legislative Session. Youth in Action Capitol Day, our biannual event that brings youth who are involved in foster care and other systems to the Texas Capitol during the Legislative Session to advocate for issues important to them, is just one example. We look forward to continuing to work with YALC members and other youth and young adults as we work to strengthen youth services in our state.
If you are a TNOYS member organization with youth or young adults and would like to learn more about the YALC, please reach out to Elizabeth Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.