Bringing Youth On Board

July 18, 2011

Would you like to have a conversation with the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, The president of the Wal-Mart Foundation, and the CEO of State Farm Insurance on dropout prevention? Well the America's Promise Alliance is giving you the chance as they look for two youth to join their Board of Directors. Yet they are not the only ones.

National youth serving non-profits across the country are opening positions on their boards to young people. The National Youth Rights Association is the leading example -- having a whole board of youth elected by their members. Youth Service America has four youth who serve on their Board of Directors, myself included, and the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) has three young people.

These youth serve with the likes of a former U.S. Senator, a senior executive at Accenture, and the executive director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service at George Washington University.

Plenty of big names fill the seats in their boardrooms so what do young people bring to the table? They bring one thing simply -- themselves.

At my first Youth Service America board meeting I was asked to talk about how I saw Youth Service America fitting in with youth service field. The analysis I was able to provide was unique because rather than looking at the question from a top down level, I was able to look at it from the perspective of someone affected.

Having used Generation On,, and The National Youth Leadership Council's resources to implement youth service projects, I was able to talk about how Youth Service America's resources and strengths differed.

My colleague on the State Farm Youth Advisory Board and good friend Parth Shah serves on the NYLC board of directors and tells a story that exemplifies why youth must be included. At one board meeting a couple of NYLC board members were questioning the cost effectiveness of NYLC's National Youth Leadership Training.

Having participated in the yearlong program himself, Parth was able to vouch for the success of the program and talk about the tremendous impact the program had on the youth that it touched. But not only that, Parth was able from his position on the Board of Directors to work with NYLC staff on the program budget and make it less expensive and more effective.

And that is the magic that the America's Promise Alliance, Youth Service America, the National Youth Leadership Council, and the National Youth Rights Association see in their youth board members. Yet it isn't always the trend. Youth serving organizations across the country don't have youth on their boards. They need to see the benefits and start bringing youth on board.

Alex Wirth is an advocate for youth involvement in government, community service, and service-learning. Alex works on a national youth engagement strategy for the federal government with the Forum for Youth Investment. He chairs the youth working group of the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO,  is also a member of the Board of Directors of Youth Service America and the National Youth Association and numerous youth councils. He is currently a student at Harvard. Follow him on Twitter at @amaliowirth.

This article has been reprinted with permission.  It originally appeared on Huffington Post.

Alex Wirth