When one mentions "youth leadership," it's sure to bring to mind a variety of activities our own children may be involved with at their schools, in scouting programs, at church, and more. But the concept of youth involvement can go beyond teaching youth about decision-making, leadership skills, or planning events. The ultimate goal of engaging our youth should be to allow them opportunities to create a real impact on our organizations and our community through preparation, participation, and partnerships.
The Heart of Illinois United Way is proud to have youth representation at our organization through Youth United for Central Illinois. The committee is comprised of representatives from more than a dozen area high schools and colleges. These teens are committed to making a difference in the community through volunteer work and learning firsthand about social service issues.
Involving youth in the decision-making aspects of our community requires a philosophy that values and respects youth beyond the perspective that youth are our future. Rather, it requires us to see our youth as unique individuals who have important and significant contributions they can make today.
Plus, there are several benefits of taking on this philosophy, including building the young volunteer's self-esteem and allowing them to explore career options while obtaining leadership and organizational skills. The organization will benefit as well by tapping into a pool of new potential donors, expanding their volunteer base, generating new strategies, facilitating long-term growth, strengthening diversity, and promoting visibility of through intergenerational collaboration.
It's important to remember that youth can bring as much to the table as adults because, just like adults, they have their own unique strengths. When young people can see that their involvement is having a meaningful impact, they're much more likely to stay connected to that cause as they grow older.
Many communities are tapping into the potential their youth has to offer, whether it be serving on their board of education, on their parks and recreation board, or on special committees of the city government. Many civic leaders are finding youth volunteers bring unique experiences, viewpoints, perspectives, and backgrounds to the table, making their organizations stronger and helping them accomplish their goals. IBI