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Why building young leaders today makes sense

I recently read an article in the Nonprofit Times titled "Young Volunteers, Kids can do more than program your smartphone"( http://bit.ly/UhyKrK). This was a title that stood out to me because I am passionate about youth empowerment - and I don't mean giving kids community service hours for manning a table or passing out flyers.

I'm talking about the type of youth empowerment where we build the next generation up to be leaderstoday. Where students get the support and guidance to become change agents. What I loved about this article is that it begins by highlighting Craig Kielburger, who at age 12 "took action against child labor and exploitation in Pakistan, eventually recruiting his friends to the cause." He founded Free the Children, which today, 17 years later, involves more than 1.7 million youth in 45 countries in education and development programs! 

This article begins by focusing on youth empowerment at a somewhat basic level, but I believe it's a start to something globally beautiful. To me, it's an indication that youth empowerment is gaining traction around the world. When we say "younger generation," that can range from 10 to 29 years old. If you want to engage the younger generation, then you can determine what age that looks like, depending on what your organization does. Typically, the high school aged students are the ages we want to engage on a deeper level.

One quick way to start? Ask a student in Duval County to ratify the ONE by ONE Community Agreement!

The article points out that if an organization is in any way serving youth, it has an obligation to ensure their perspectives are represented. Some of their suggestions include appointing youth advisors to your board of directors, creating a speakers bureau of young presenters, producing a series of short video interviews with willing teens, or include a young person on a Q & A panel. The article also reminds us that young people bring skills to the table to boost an organization's reach through social media, and their extended amounts of energy.     

Never assume that a young person doesn't know or care. If you take the time to allow their voice to be heard you will be surprised at the insight they have. Craig Kielburger made an excellent point: young people don't know what "won't work" and will try anyway. That's the beauty of being young. If we do not welcome the bright and motivated youngster to have a voice, who will?

-- Allishia Edmonds

P.S. Check out yesterday's blog post by Bart Hutchins to learn what the Jacksonville Public Education Fund is doing to engage youth.