Youth-Adult Partnership Spotlight-Summer 2022

This week was the official start to summer.  It was a hot one and it was full of another kind of heat, ‘sparks’.  In Positive Youth Development we talk about how sparks “give a young person a sense of direction and encourages goal setting.”  June 21 was one of two Spark Days held by Division of Extension this year.  I had the opportunity to attend the UW-Milwaukee event with youth from partner organizations who are collaborating on the NIA project.

It was a long day and a HOT one.  When we left UW-Milwaukee to return to Rock County at 5 p.m, lunch seemed long ago.  As we moved slowly through the city streets, sun glared into the cracked school bus windows.  Sweat stuck to my legs and squeaked against the seats.  The youth asked if we could stop.  Relieved to finally be on our way home after a day that had begun at 7:00 a.m., my initial response had been ‘no’.  With the seemingly endless creep of the bus, my thoughts slowed.  They then jumped to a similar memory, still unresolved.

The week before at the Restorative Justice Summit, I had participated in a restorative circle.  With a partner we had to share a time we had caused harm.  My mind sifted through memories and settled on a bus ride from a book conference in Guatemala almost ten year ago.  On that ride the day too had seemed too long.  The staff had asked to stop at a store.  I had given in to my own fatigue and desire to be home as quickly as possible, ignoring what I would lose for want of speed.  I chose what I wanted and because I was in a position of power, we did what I wanted.  We did not stop and I damaged relationships.  While some work had been done to repair harm, I very much I still carried the damage I had done to myself.

In Guatemala, I had elected not to listen to the adults with whom I needed to prioritize relationships, no matter how many years we had worked together.  In this moment, I had the opportunity to prioritize youth voices that I consistently messaged everyone needed to listen to.  Age didn’t matter.  Instead, I had to consider the decision making space and all its layers of why.  The question I had failed to address in Guatemala was not about why or why not we should stop.  The question that was staring me in the face again returning from Milwaukee was the following: “How ready was I to share power?”

Recently a tool was shared with me at a conference that displays this exact reflection process that asks how ready we are to receive and formalize youth voice in our organizational work.  (It is included in the resources below.)  Despite speaking the language of youth voice everyday, the moment on the bus when I really wanted something different than they did, was a gut check.  It also was, I hope, my own act of restoration for the event that transpired in Guatemala all those years ago.

The levels of participation are as follows:

  1. Children are listened to.
  2. Children are supported in expressing their views.
  3. Children’s views are taken into account.
  4. Children are involved in decision-making processes.
  5. Children share power and responsibility for decision-making.

As you read my experience above, you may think that something like a food stop is a no brainer or you might prioritize speed and schedules like me, too often without realizing it.  The point is that we all make value assumptions and feel compelled to defend them.  As adults we have the power to do so.  The question remains, “How will you share this power?”


The resources below are both meant to build our vocabulary for the work that we do and provide examples of some key organizations doing the work.

Define your values.  Eric Butler asked us to do this at the summit.  What does restore mean to you?  What does justice mean?  What other values do you practice?  Do you know what those values mean to others?  How does that affect your ability to work together?  While considering my two bus rides, I googled restore and redeem.  Before googling, I was excited about redemption.  Afterwards, I am much more focused on restoration.  Talking Peace is an example of the circles he facilitates, centering values

Facilitating Youth Sparks To read more about what ‘sparks’ mean and how you can support youth exploration of their passions, you can visit I would also recommend the Hedgehog Concept as a way to help youth find exciting combinations of their sparks that can lead them forward!

Shier’s Pathway to Participation Model This diagram, along with the ladder concept provided on the Community Youth Development flyer in this section, allows you to gut check yourself.  Try it in theory and compare that to your practice.

Two amazing organizations that center this work of healing, humanity and advocacy are YWCA Dane County Restorative Justice  and Urban Underground.  Remember, alongside offerings such as photography and cake decorating offered this summer as distance learning communities, we can also support youth with leadership sparks!