Best Practice: HS Students Comprise Over 50% of Organization’s Paid Staff

Youth Empowered Solutions, headquartered in Raleigh, celebrated its 5th Anniversary on September 12, 2013. I saw firsthand why YES! is on a growth trajectory. This innovative nonprofit with three offices across North Carolina provides best practices for any organization attempting to change community norms and achieve systems change. In one single year YES! achieved 38 policies on four adolescent health initiatives impacting an estimated 10 million people. YES! youth staffer Shevanique Winston says, “I’m proud to say that I have sat at the table with many legislators and lawmakers and I have changed policies that affect my generation.”

YES! is a gem that any organization–especially youth-serving ones–can learn from and strengthen its mission and methodology.

  • Unlike many organizations that boast about youth-adult partnerships, intergenerational power-sharing at YES! is a reality, not a slogan.
  • Genuine youth infusion exists every day of the week. A whopping 66% of YES staff are paid high school students. Equally stunning: 76% of the young people that YES employs and trains are youth of color, live in a rural area, or live in a low wealth community.
  • Bronwyn Lucas, executive director, believes “Adults and institutions seem too often to fear teens or aim to protect them.” YES! youth staff are colleagues and respected as co-equals, not treated as interns relegated to the sidelines.
  • Positive youth development typically aims for personal growth and individual achievement. Parrish Ravelli, who coordinates YES! Access to Health Care initiative, draws a fundamental distinction that the YES! Youth Empowerment Model “centers on addressing social inequities through meaningful engagement of the target population.”
  • Several former YES! youth staff who spoke at the 5th year celebration, credited with the YES! trifecta—skills, critical awareness and opportunities—for their relentless questioning of the status quo and advocacy capacity to pursue social justice.
  • Christine Laucher, one of the five YES! co-founders, told me “I cannot imagine how I could do this work without youth staff!” In addition to the synergy and creativity between generations, it’s time to consider lifelong learning which perhaps could be labeled positive adult development.

Please spend 2 minutes listening to high school senior Tyshaun Johnson discuss food deserts and his ongoing work with convenience stores to offer healthier food. You can really grasp the integrity of the YES! framework and its durable impact by watching dozens of other youth and adult staff on the YES! YouTube channel.

That’s my take! What do you think?