Written By: Wendy, ACO's Youth Network
Today is International Youth Day. On this day, I think of the many young people I know who ‘give back’ to the systems of care they come from. Those who are capable of taking their lived experiences, and transforming them into messages, projects and practices to make a difference.
As a young person from the child welfare system, I have found myself on boards and advisory committees as a “youth” representative. Sometimes this can be a meaningful engagement, and sometimes I feel like I am sitting there so someone can simply check a box somewhere, to say they had a young person at the table.
That lived experience goes beyond the telling of those experiences, it is a lens that we bring to all we do.
It’s been a rising trend to engage young people for change. In the foster and adoption world, this is seen a lot with people who have lived this experience. These individuals are asked to inform the rest of the community of what it means to go through these events. They’re asked to tell the community how to do better, and people with lived experience certainly are the best positioned to give this direction.
However, many times we are asked to do this while we are still grappling to understand these experiences and how they affect us. Sometimes I catch myself sharing a message about adoption that I no longer believe because it’s what’s expected of me. Many times we get pigeonholed into this expectation of how we can give back.
“You are a youth, therefore this is your contribution to society.”
But we are also more than our personal experiences with the child welfare system! We are human beings who have skills, interests and hobbies. We are trying to figure out life and every aspect that we fit into it. We are professionals in the workplace. We are leaders not because of our age, but through our lived experience. That lived experience goes beyond the telling of those experiences, it is a lens that we bring to all we do. A level of understanding that, youth or not, we have because of this. It extends beyond ‘sharing our story’ and envelopes who we are, at the same time being not all of who we are.
Today on International Youth Day, I encourage you to see the young people you engage with as more than just “youth”. Recognize that our experiences can be transformed to affect others positively, not just through our stories, but in all that we do. That our stories don’t begin and end while we are telling them, but nestle in our hearts and form us as people. That our only vocation is not just sharing our stories, but that how we contribute otherwise is just as meaningful.
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