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Amplifying Youth Voice with NAA NextGen Leader Alum Hannah Howard

Tuesday, 17 January 2023 18:58

Young people want to be heard. They want adults to hear their stories, consider their ideas, and value them as partners in finding solutions for their communities’ issues. At the National AfterSchool Association, we are fortunate to have abundant opportunities to work with adults who listen with open, eager minds. Camp Fire Evaluation Manager and 2022 NextGen Leader alumni Hannah Howard is walking the walk of an afterschool leader by serving on the Amplify Youth Voice Advisory Committee for Every Hour Counts. As a part of her role, Hannah recently attended the Powered by Youth Voice in Chicago, where youth voices were centered on advancing new directions for the afterschool field.

The initiative hosted about 60 youth from communities across the nation to present ideas for what their ideal afterschool program would be like. The group then decided how $100,000 would support one, some, or all of the proposed ideas. Adults present were asked to participate only by listening. “The youth asked for spaces for exploration, with one presentation asking for a building with empty free space for youth to just ‘create,’” Hannah explained. “EMPTY space for youth to fill – not adults.”

The young collaborators didn’t stop there. They considered shared spaces for adult-led financial literacy classes and youth-led social justice discussions. later a youth may lead a session sharing about their culture or a social justice issue. They emphasized the need for youth to choose their activities and lead independently or with a peer. One of the most profound suggestions was also one of the most unexpected. “They also asked for spaces for healing, with multiple requests for therapy sessions to take place within afterschool programs,” Hannah said.

The youth envisioned a program where participants would be fully immersed in a community area or Zen Rooms to be available with pillows and candles to hold everyone’s emotions and traumas tenderly in that same space.

“That made me pause,” she shared. “The thought that all of me could be held in one space and not be too much…THAT concept made my eyes well up. I reflected on what a space like that would have meant to me as a middle schooler… These young people gently painted a visionary future of listening to each other and learning alongside each other.” With such innovative, thoughtful choices for their ideal programs, the Powered by Youth Initiative event and its young leaders inspired a conference full of afterschool professionals with their passionate, authentic voices and bright blueprint of what’s next. Hannah said it best; “youth leadership is transformational leadership.”