With 2021 drawing to a close, there is a lot for TNOYS and our member network to reflect on and celebrate. Through all of the year’s challenges and opportunities, we could not be more grateful for the many partners and youth who made a direct impact on TNOYS’ work. We’re excited to share some of the wins and milestones that were made possible thanks to our dedicated staff, member organizations, and youth and young adult partners.
1. Legislative Session Highlights: Prioritizing Youth and Providers at The Texas Capitol
While the 87th Texas Legislative Session presented many new challenges, TNOYS was proud to secure important wins and ensure that youth and providers were heard and prioritized.
- During our Week of Action for Youth, TNOYS members and partners joined virtual meetings to educate policymakers about important issues that impact youth. Young Adult Leadership Council members also raised awareness through three storytelling videos: Experiences with Transitioning to Adulthood, What Access to a Driver’s License Means for Systems-Involved Youth, and How Support Services Impact Youth Experiencing Homelessness.
- A standout moment from the legislative session was hearing the powerful testimonies of youth and young adult partners who advocated virtually and in person. Prince Hayward joined us at the Texas Capitol to advocate for several important bills, and TNOYS YALC member Brenda Woolley shared her powerful story in order to help foster youth get college credit for completing the PAL program.
- Our hard work paid off with the passage of several bills that will eliminate barriers for systems-involved youth. We’re especially excited for new policies that will help youth experiencing homelessness or in/previously in foster care when getting a driver’s license, enable youth to obtain college credit for completing Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) classes, and access to health and mental health services.
This session, TNOYS secured many wins for systems-involved youth and the providers that serve them.
2. “Nothing About Us Without Us”: Amplifying Youth Voice at TNOYS
TNOYS has long held the belief that the best way to serve and support young people is to center their voices and experiences. Those efforts took shape in many ways this year, starting with the creation of TNOYS’ youth engagement roadmap— a new blueprint for how TNOYS can more meaningfully engage and invest in youth and young adults.
- Through our Youth Voices: Listening Sessions and Storytelling program we engaged youth and young adults in multiple storytelling projects, listening sessions, and focus groups.
- Youth and young adult voices were instrumental to the development of several important resources. Input from over 29 youth and young adults helped us develop the Transition-Age Youth (TAY) Life Skills Study Guides, a series of tools and resources for youth as they transition out of systems and into adulthood.
- A major milestone was the relaunch of TNOYS’ Young Adult Leadership Council. Throughout the year, a total of 26 YALC members in two cohorts contributed to TNOYS’ work through policy advocacy, storytelling, training development, and more. We were excited to celebrate their hard work at our first YALC graduation in December!
- We furthered our impact with the launch of TNOYS’ AmeriCorps Program, which connects young people with lived experiences in systems with employment opportunities at TNOYS member organizations. We were thrilled that three former YALC members decided to continue their professional development with TNOYS by joining the program.
- Looking ahead, we’re excited that PEAKS Camp— TNOYS’ experiential learning camp for youth— is coming back in 2022! Learn how you can support this program here.
The launch of our re-imagined Young Adult Leadership Council (YALC) was an exciting milestone!
3. Connecting Youth-Serving Providers with Cutting-Edge Resources and Training
In 2021, TNOYS expanded our work to equip youth-serving providers with cutting-edge resources and tools to better serve youth and young adults.
- We hosted our 38th Annual Conference virtually for the second time, bringing together over 500 youth-serving professionals to network, build new skills, and have fun alongside the youth and young adults they served.
- After an inspiring Annual Conference, we kept the momentum going at the second Annual Texas Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program Summit, hosted in partnership with Texas Education Agency. The virtual summit convened stakeholders working both in the community and in schools and featured several youth presenters.
- Outside of our two major conferences, TNOYS engaged both subject matter experts and youth with lived experience as trainers, speakers, and presenters. One exciting highlight was our free training series on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation Identification Tool, developed thanks to support from the Office of the Texas Governor Child Sex Trafficking Team. We were grateful to offer 7 trainings co-led by youth and young adults with lived expertise, and that trained nearly 200 youth-serving providers on this important tool.
- In November, we re-launched our in-person trainings by hosting a Youth Thrive training for Harris County Resources for Children and Adults. We’re excited to bring back more in-person trainings in the new year!
We brought youth, young adults, and youth-serving providers together at two major conferences and both virtual and in-person events.
4. Guiding Our Growth with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Best Practices
An important milestone that stood out this year was TNOYS’ strategic growth to move the work forward. In 2021, we grew our capacity by onboarding six diverse, passionate staff members across four of our teams: Communications, Operations, Practice, and Partnerships. We also launched new internal work on our team and board of directors to plan a future for the organization that is rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
- We kicked off our DEI journey with consultants Wayfinding Partners and The New Philanthropists. These organizations worked closely with TNOYS’ board and staff to help us understand our areas for growth and chart a path forward.
- After a busy winter and spring, our team came together for three days of planning and team building at our team retreat in Austin. The retreat was a welcome chance to reflect on the organization’s future and map out our goals. We came away with a detailed timeline for the year ahead, and strategies for our efforts across TNOYS’ systems areas.
- Building on our progress from the team retreat, our team honed in on four values to ensure our work is guided by DEI.
- The year’s strategic planning ended with a virtual session in November that brought together TNOYS’ staff, Young Adult Leadership Council, and board members to finalize our plan and values statements. We are excited to release our full strategic plan in 2022!
Six new leaders joined our full-time staff this year. We were excited to bring everyone together at our team retreat.
These are just a few highlights from our work in 2021. We’re incredibly grateful for the members, stakeholders, and youth partners who joined us along the way, and we can’t wait to continue our impact in 2022! If you are interested in joining our work, we encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter, learn how to become a member of TNOYS, or donate using the link below.