The YOUTH ACTIVISM PROJECT was launched in 1992 by Wendy Schaetzel Lesko as a non-partisan organization to encourage young people to speak up and pursue lasting solutions to problems they care deeply about. This national nonprofit clearinghouse strives to:
- Promote youth civic engagement— especially in the areas of school policies, city ordinances, state laws, national legislation and international issues;
- Provide free strategic advice to young people to help them transform their ideas into proposals and be taken seriously by the powers-that-be;
- Train adults on how to collaborate and co-pilot successfully with young people;
- Convince nonprofits, schools and government to engage young people in meaningful roles and the decision-making process;
- Partner with organizations on upcoming visits to Congress to create hands-on training to increase the inpact of young advocates in their meetings with lawmakers, facilitate debrief session, and collaborate on a strategic plan for ongoing grassroots action.
- Share promising practices and strategies for lasting change through our online resources, training manuals and consulting;
- Serve as a network, connecting like-minded individuals who are tackling similar youth empowerment and public policy issues in the United States and internationally.
The YOUTH ACTIVISM PROJECT became a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization in 2004 with the founding of its global action campaign called School Girls Unite. This ambitious youth-driven initiative with our sister chapter in Mali, pursues a unique two-pronged approach of philanthropy through our Mali Girls Scholarship Program and policy advocacy through direct communications with legislators. Please visit www.SchoolGirlsUnite.org where you can download free our bilingual action guide, “Girls Gone Activist! How to Change the World through Education,” written by young activists in Mali and the United States. Tax-deductible donations can be made online via JustGive.org
BOARD OF DIRECTORS 2017
- JOANNE CONELLEY
- DANDIO COULIBALY
- MILAGROS DE SOUZA
- FATA KARVA
- MIRA FLEMING
- ANIKA MANZOOR
- MOLARA OBE
- JOCELYN SAPULENE MATENJE
- WENDY SCHAETZEL LESKO
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH: FOUNDER
The vision of the Youth Activism Project and School Girls Unite draws on Wendy’s long-term commitment of encouraging ordinary people, especially the powerless – from farm workers harvesting grapes to those too young to vote – to be influential advocates with the powers-that-be.
Wendy worked for three years as a community organizer for Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers immediately after graduating from Rollins College. During her last two years of college, she created a recreational program for 100 children of Florida orange pickers about 45 minutes from campus.
In 1975, Wendy returned to her hometown of Washington, D.C. and became managing editor of the Congressional Monitor and also started “Today on the Hill,” a live daily broadcast on WTOP radio forecasting congressional committee hearings, markups, floor votes and other legislative action.
After six years of daily deadlines, she co-authored The Maternity Sourcebook (Warner Books) and The People Rising (Thunder’s Mouth Press).
In 1992, Wendy wrote No Kidding Around! America’s Young Activists Are Changing Our World & You Can Too and launched this resource center. Her other books and resources include:
- Catalyst! Successful Strategies to Empower Young Advocates
- “Beyond Coaching: Co-Piloting with Young Adults” in Transforming Young Adult Services (American Library Service Neal-Schuman)
- Youth! The 26% Solution with Emanuel Tsourounis, II
- Maximum Youth Involvement: The Complete Gameplan for Community Action
- Knock-Your-Socks-Off Training Teens To Be Successful Activists!The Complete Guide For Facilitating A 1-2 Hour Workshop
- Youth Advocacy Module for U.S. Health & Human Service ASSIST Project
- Student Activist Training Action Guide for MADD & U.S. DOT NHTSA
- Youth Empowerment Question Why for N.C. Department of Health
- Youth As Equal Partners for United Way of America
Wendy has presented over 1,000 keynote speeches and workshops in more than 30 states to audiences of all ages to such organizations as American Cancer Society, California Wellness Foundation, Earth Force, Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, International Institute for Restorative Practices World Conference, Jóvenes en Acción, Longmont University, Plan USA, United Way of America, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Missouri Learn-and-Serve, Maine Department of Education, New York State Reality Check, Oklahoma Department of Health, U.S. State Department International Visitor Leadership Program, Youth Empowered Solutions.
In 2004, together with a group of preteens, Wendy launched School Girls Unite. This global girls leadership initiative won the Innovations in Civic Participation Global Youth Volunteering Award in 2007. It engages young women in Mali and the U.S. to collaborate as philanthropists and political activists. These African and American activists raise money and manage scholarships for 75 girls in Mali (currently 40 with 10 completing 9th grade) and also advocate for ending child marriage and ensuring every girl gets an education. This multicultural group co-authored a bilingual action guide, Girls Gone Activist! How to Change the World through Education SchoolGirlsUnite.org. School Girls Unite led the successful national campaign in 2011 to mobilize U.S. support for the newly established United Nations International Day of the Girl that will be celebrated annually on October 11th DayoftheGirl.org.
Wendy is the recipient of WETA’s “Hometown Heroes” 2004 Award, the PBS television station for the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, with her co-founder of Students Practicing And Respecting Knowledge [SPARK]. She started this volunteer-run nonprofit program in 1996 that provided free one-on-one tutoring throughout the school year to about 50 students annually for 12 years.
She lives in the Washington, DC area and her two sons have long histories as activists, starting when they were in elementary school. Wendy Lesko embraces the idea that young people should be seen and heard and says “the adult world must be persuaded to value young people’s perspectives and proposals to challenge the status quo and advocate for systemic change.”
Anthony Bernier, PhD and editor of Transforming Young Adult Services (2013): “While the rhetoric promoting youth participation is not new, few researchers and institutions have mined the intergenerational partnership model illustrated by Lesko.”
Youth Today: “Wendy Schaetzel Lesko is a mentor to many of the nation’s most accomplished young leaders.”
Longwood University: “Thank you for participating in our Youth Advocacy Panel. Your wisdom, humor and experience resonated with all of us.”
Anika Manzoor, co-founder of School Girls Unite, Fulbright grantee & global activist: “Wendy Lesko is the REAL DEAL when it comes to effective mentorship and allyship for young activists. Wendy embodies a brilliant combination of strategic thinking and a true belief in the power of youth activism to guide and provide resources for young people in their efforts to make substantive social and political change. I have known Wendy since I was 12 years old and she is, without a doubt, the reason why I too have found my calling as an advocate for youth activism. I simply cannot sing enough praises about Wendy.”
Voice of Youth Advocates: “Lesko’s expert guidance in “effective intergeneration advocacy” will help young adult librarians to re-evaluate our convictions about working with teens and about where libraries stand on youth involvement.”
Amber Thornton, VP Technical Assistance & Training, American Legacy Foundation: “If you are looking to engage an energetic, passionate and credible expert on youth activism issues – Wendy Lesko is ‘top shelf’! The Youth Activism Project is the ‘go to’ source for facilitating and galvanizing adults and youth groups.”
Carolyn Rose-Aviles, VP Policy and Public Engagement, Plan USA: “Wendy Lesko is an accomplished trainer, planner, communicator; she has a long history of working with and reporting on the U.S. Congress. She has taken her talents and her experience and translated them into a capacity that is unsurpassed for teaching youth and engaging them in exercising their rights as citizens to take stands on issues and to effectively communicate their positions to those who have the power and authority to shape policies that impact them and others around the world.”
Mira Fleming – School Girls Unite leader since 9th grade, Board member, and co-author, Girls Gone Activist! “Wendy introduced me to many issues I would never have otherwise known about, designing an entirely new way of thinking about the global community.. .It would not be an exaggeration to say that School Girls Unite has changed my life.”
Adam Fletcher – Speaker, Author, Consultant; President, CommonAction Consulting: “Amazing, dynamic, bold, motivating, powerful…there are no ends to the praises I would sing for Wendy. Her leadership in the field of youth leadership, community development, and cultural change has laid the path for generations of leaders yet to come, myself included. I stand indebted to the courageous vision Wendy laid out for the future of youth, and I strongly commend and recommend her whenever possible.”
The Washington Post: “Wendy Schaetzel Lesko believes adults need kids to think about solving problems.”
Houston Chronicle: “Kid power is something to take seriously: Wendy Lesko says it is time for adults to pay attention and listen to what today’s kids have to say because their opinions need to be heard.”
American Library Association Booklist: “Youth! The 26% Solution” is a lively pep talk full of instructions on everything from organizing a small meeting, wording a petition, and setting goals to relating to press and government officials and maintaining public relations…Activist teens and the adults who work with them will find the book most helpful and motivational.”
Eliana Stanislawski, 17, International Day of the Girl-US coordinator: “One stick of dynamite can boom loud enough to shake the dust for miles. A determined advocate’s effort can reverberate across the world. Wendy taught me that.”
National PTA Our Children: “Youth! The 26% Solution” shows how idealistic environmentalists, angry skateboarders, students demanding representation on school boards, and other young activists have persuaded decision makers to listen to their innovative ideas.”