Giving Youth a Voice

“Do nothing about me without me.” – Grantmakers for Effective Organizations

Girl standing in room next to poster

Anna at the Ohio Youth Advocacy Board January Meeting. Photo credit: http://overcominghurdlesinohio.blogspot.com/

In her old world,  “Anna” was used to people making decisions for her. But now, Anna lives on her own (and makes her own decisions) at Independence Place, YWCA Greater Cleveland’s permanent supportive housing facility for homeless youth and youth like Anna who’ve aged out of the foster care system. Instead of others speaking for her, Anna is now using skills gained through the YWCA’s NIA (Nurturing Independence and Aspirations) Program to raise her voice as an advocacy tool.

That tool was put to use recently when Anna and fellow Independence Place resident “Candace” participated in the Ohio (Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio) Youth Advisory Board (YAB) meeting in Columbus. Designed to provide youth input to the policies and practices that affect all youth who have or will experience “out-of-home” care, the OHIO YAB brings youth from across the state together on a quarterly basis. Anna and Candace were more than willing to make the jaunt to Columbus and speak on behalf of youth in Cuyahoga County.

After the meeting, Anna described the gathering as “awesome.”

I liked how people in my situation spoke up and shared thoughts on what is happening in different counties across the state.”

Anna participated in several breakout sessions, including one about plans for OHIO YAB Instagram and videos, noting it was good to see the group talking about ways to leverage their conversations on a statewide level.

Kate Lodge, YWCA Program Director for A Place 4 Me, asked Anna and Candace to participate in the OHIO YAB forum, because in her work, Kate firmly believes all youth must have a place where they can learn life skills and have a voice in the system.

“We are working on system-level changes,” Kate noted. For our youth to be heard, “we must have a seat at a bigger table to shape how federal, state and even local dollars are used. We are seeing traction at the state and local level. People are coming together to build a better system. Some things are hard for the public system to hear, but it challenges them to keep focused on the goal of making things better.”

Anna was really jazzed about her opportunity to be heard and make a difference. “I would definitely go back,” she said. Let’s hope she’s marked her calendar for April 16, 2015 – the date of the next OHIO YAB meeting.

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