2021 was a year of growth for TNOYS’ work to more meaningfully center and amplify the voices of youth and young adults (YYA).
From listening sessions and focus groups to leadership development training, these efforts were guided by our Youth Engagement Roadmap — a new blueprint for how TNOYS can engage YYAs, learn directly from their lived expertise, and invest in their ability to build positive change within the very systems that they have experienced.
Three exciting new programs brought the roadmap—and our youth engagement goals— to life this year. Our Youth Voices: Listening Sessions and Storytelling program amplifies youth voice through listening and learning so that we can better prioritize their needs. For youth who want to further their impact, TNOYS’ Young Adult Leadership Council (YALC) is a paid, work-based learning program for YYA to build leadership skills and guide the direction of youth services. Finally, TNOYS’ new AmeriCorps program helps young adults put these skills into practice by connecting them with work opportunities at nonprofits across Texas.
In 2021, we were thrilled to see the roadmap take shape through the accomplishments of three amazing young leaders: Brenda Woolley, Jorge Leyva, and Sally. All three young adults are graduates of our Young Adult Leadership Council, and today they are continuing their journeys with TNOYS as AmeriCorps members.
Brenda and Jorge are already serving at TNOYS and El Paso Center for Children respectively, and Sally is interested in joining Communities in Schools of the Coastal Bend. All six AmeriCorps members in the cohort join their host sites as “AmeriCorps Youth Support Specialists”, a role in which they will provide near-peer support and job skill and professional development services to youth as they transition into adulthood.
It’s been exciting to watch Brenda, Jorge, and Sally use the skills developed in the YALC to secure these opportunities and continue to make a difference for systems-involved YYAs. Read on to learn about their journeys and what’s next:
Brenda Woolley, AmeriCorps Member Youth Support Specialist at TNOYS
After a successful year on the Young Adult Leadership Council, Brenda is excited to use her skills and perspective to support TNOYS’ YYA partners. Brenda lent her voice and expertise to many important projects on the YALC, with a highlight being her testimony during the 87th Texas Legislative Session in support of a bill that would help foster youth get college credit for completing the PAL Program.
As an AmeriCorps member on the TNOYS team, Brenda is already providing valuable support to the newest cohort of YALC members. She’s excited to learn more about the day-to-day work of TNOYS, and the process to put on signature events like the Annual Conference or the TEHCY Conference. As Brenda explains,
“My experiences at TNOYS have helped me grow as a person and become a leader. With everything I do now, I know that my voice is important, my thoughts are important, my experience is valuable and in everything I do, and I have a say in how I feel and how much I allow myself to be exposed to.” – Brenda Woolley, 23, AmeriCorps Member
Jorge Leyva, AmeriCorps Member Youth Support Specialist at El Paso Center for Children
In his role at the El Paso Center for Children, Jorge supervises youth, supports them with their needs, provides advice, and much more. Before becoming a YALC member, which was Jorge’s first interaction with TNOYS, he had experienced homelessness for almost a year before finding housing. While on the YALC, Jorge drew on this experience to become a strong voice and advocate through several important projects. He took the lead on a storytelling video about transitioning to adulthood, helped facilitate listening sessions, and developed and led trainings for TNOYS’ Annual Conference and Texas Education for Homeless Children and Youth (TEHCY) Program Summit. As an AmeriCorps member, Jorge looks forward to growing the skills he learned during the YALC. As Jorge explains:
“A huge part of my work as an AmeriCorps member has been surprisingly comfortable to me due to having had valuable related training experiences as a YALC member.” – Jorge Leyva, 21, AmeriCorps Member
Sally, Prospective AmeriCorps Member Youth Support Specialist at Communities in Schools Coastal Bend
Sally, who prefers to use only her first name, was in extended foster care and a college student when she first learned about TNOYS. Sally joined the YALC in 2020 and has since taken part in numerous TNOYS storytelling opportunities and learned how to improve her advocacy skills and use her voice to speak up for others. Sally’s time on the YALC led to many exciting achievements, including the chance to present at TNOYS’ 2021 TEHCY Program Summit on serving youth experiencing homelessness and facilitating listening sessions with YYA through Youth Participatory Research to revamp the DFPS Preparation for Adult Living Independent Living Study Guides. She also participated in a recent Mission Capital project to assess the Trauma-Informed Care practices in Central Texas.
Sally is now interested in the AmeriCorps program, as she’s excited about the new work environment she will be in and to simply be a part of something bigger. As Sally explains,
“The opportunities at TNOYS improved my professional skills and helped me gain confidence in my skills. Participating in conferences like Annual Conference or the TEHCY Conference where I had the chance to present and interact with working professionals helped sharpen my professional skills. I now know how to present in front of different audiences, consider what tone to take, etc.” – Sally, 20, Prospective AmeriCorps Member
We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to engage YYAs and center their voices and lived expertise in everything we do. You can learn more about our Youth Engagement Roadmap here.