This summer I was partnered with Territory, a nonprofit within Chicago. This organization is a youth-centered employment program, in which voice, vision, and agency are the key values highlighted. As a facilitator this meant that whenever important decisions were made about the direction of our program, teens were consulted. When I first understood the power of the teens, I was excited, but a bit scared. I wasn’t scared because I would be working with teens specifically, but more scared because I can be a bit of a control freak.
I’ve experienced more growth from listening to youth voices, than I ever would have on my own if I hadn’t let go of a bit of control.
Anytime I am working on a major project, I like a solid deadline of when goals will be completed, and by what formats. So the idea of consulting teens at every step, possibly rerouting my timeline, was a bit scary. However, looking back, I had nothing to be afraid of. Sure, I was consulting the teens throughout our final project of developing a public space, but their voices both improved the quality of our final project and the quality of my leadership.
Here are two ways in which I’ve grown from elevating youth voices:
1. I was reminded to be more creative: When you’ve done the same task a million times, it’s easy to get stuck in routine and forget how to be creative. This is especially true when you’ve spent a lot of time in school or working in an office, because you often find yourself going the quickest route to complete a task. But I’ve learned that just because it’s faster to complete a task one way, doesn’t mean there’s not value in the creative route. When we change the ways in which we complete tasks, we have a way of getting new, creative results.
2. I learned to trust my team. I have a bad habit of taking on too big of a workload, and not asking for help from others unless it’s absolutely necessary. However, working with Territory gave me the perfect opportunity to experiment with this idea of trust and asking other for help- and I’m better for it. Through this experience I’ve learned that if you give teens a task, and the resources to complete it, you can trust that they will get the job done. While it may not be the way I usually complete the task, that’s okay, because they are perfectly capable of producing amazing results with just a little of trust.
I’m so grateful for this opportunity to have led a team of youth in a nonprofit in which youth voice is elevated. While I was scared initially, I now hope to see more youth-centered nonprofits do the same. I feel like I’ve experienced more growth from listening to youth voices, than I ever would have on my own if I hadn’t let go of a bit of control.