The program educates, activates, and inspires youth from underserved communities in New York City and Washington, D.C., to take action on critical issues facing the world through a variety of school day and afterschool programs and enriching summer learning programs. What started simply as conversations with young people about their perspectives and experiences now stands as a thriving nonprofit that uses youth voice and recognition to empower.
"Global Kids is really about helping young people understand what's going on globally, having it connect locally, and giving them the tools to create lasting change," said Evie Hantzopoulos, who has served as Global Kids Executive Director since late 2010. "By understanding these issues, young people in turn become more active and engaged."
One way Global Kids accomplishes this is through its Annual Youth Conference: a yearly spring staple that brings a topic of global importance to the forefront through guest speakers, performances, peer-education workshops and more. The coolest part? Since the late '90s, it's been facilitated and organized by the youth Global Kids serves.
"Young people have always helped design our programs—and with the Annual Youth Conference, they design the whole day," said Hantzopoulos, adding that the Global Kids board of directors always includes two young people. "We're there to expose them to things they may not have encountered, but they're really front and center when it comes to choosing content."
Planning starts in November, with research and meetings relevant to the topic chosen for the year.
"The fact that they get to be in the driver's seat is critical," said Yvonne Brathwaite, Director of Programs. "Whether it's service learning or meeting with a council member to advocate for themselves, the beauty of it is that these young people really get to take the lead."
Brathwaite stresses that it's one thing to say you provide youth voice and recognition, but another to actually do it.
"Young people are so capable of understanding and engaging in conversation about global issues more than most people give them credit for," said Brathwaite.
Regardless of career path, Hantzopoulos notes, this event helps prepare young people for their futures with a variety of leadership skills.
"It takes learning to another level and provides powerful peer-to-peer outreach through a truly transformative experience," said Hantzopoulos. "Many alumni have recalled the effect the conference had on them years later."
Interested in developing youth-driven events or programming like Global Kids? Be ready to step up—and step back.
"Support young people by making sure they're getting the feedback needed to provide a high-quality event," Hantzopoulos said.
"They'll learn so much and though they might make decisions you're not 100% on board with, learn to let them go and respect their decisions."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for AfterSchool Today.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of AfterSchool Today.
Photo courtesy of Neha Gautum.