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Perrin Foundation favors ‘new role’ for Connecticut youth

Brandon, a public ally who had worked with Citywide Youth Coalition, pauses for a picture with other New Haven youth leaders at the Coalition’s Youth Summit. The summit was co-planned by a team of youth and adults from Breakthru, Youth Unleashed, and the New Elm City Dream, youth-led social change groups that were interviewed and contributed to the Perrin Family Foundation’s recently released report, A New Role for Connecticut Youth: Leaders of Social Change. —Chris Randall photo

Brandon, a public ally who had worked with Citywide Youth Coalition, pauses for a picture with other New Haven youth leaders at the Coalition’s Youth Summit. The summit was co-planned by a team of youth and adults from Breakthru, Youth Unleashed, and the New Elm City Dream, youth-led social change groups that were interviewed and contributed to the Perrin Family Foundation’s recently released report, A New Role for Connecticut Youth: Leaders of Social Change. —Chris Randall photo

Eddie, a young resident of Hartford, believes he and his peers can transform their community, but he acknowledges not all young people have been encouraged to believe the same. Often, he explains, “youth are told to leave problems behind, rather than trying to fix them.”

Eddie is one of nearly 60 young people, youth workers, community organizers and philanthropists from across Connecticut whose insights and experiences helped inform A New Role for Connecticut Youth: Leaders of Social Change, a report released last week by the Perrin Family Foundation in Ridgefield.

The report calls for a shift in how those across Connecticut view and engage young people in remedying the state’s “deeply rooted social, racial and economic inequities.”

“Too often, youth are regarded as part of the problem and are not given the opportunity to develop the skills that allow them to be part of the solution,” said Sheila Perrin, president of the Perrin Family Foundation. “Adults create agendas and engage in dialogue about issues without the input of those who are most capable of providing firsthand feedback and leadership.”

Conducted in partnership with the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, the report draws on national research to provide compelling evidence of a dual bottom line: Supporting youth as leaders of social change has the potential to transform both the lives of young people and the communities in which they live.

It finds, however, that this approach to youth and community change is both uncommon and underdeveloped in Connecticut.

The report defines youth-led social change as a “long term process that builds the confidence, knowledge, skills and collective leadership of young people while addressing the root causes of injustice and inequity in their communities.” It identifies several factors that impede youth-led social change in Connecticut, including:

  • The absence of local learning opportunities to build youth, staff and organizational capacity to develop and implement youth-led organizing campaigns that address root causes of inequity.
  • The fear of engaging in “tough” conversations about “uncomfortable” topics like race, class and power.
  • The need for a shift in prevailing philanthropic culture and practice.

Laura McCargar, the author of the report, said the challenges facing Connecticut are “significant but far from insurmountable. Connecticut is ripe for change, and those interviewed expressed a strong desire to see more of this work happening here.”

The report draws on insights from those in the field to advance opportunities and recommendations for how to expand and strengthen youth-led social change efforts across the state.

The Perrin Family Foundation has launched new initiatives that prioritize partnering with community groups and funders to raise awareness about the benefits of youth-led social change and to strengthen capacity, infrastructure and resources to support youth organizing in Connecticut.

Copies of the report may be downloaded online at www.perrinfamilyfoundation.org.

The Perrin Family Foundation has as its aim “to make Connecticut a state where young people are vital leaders in creating safe, healthy and just communities.”

It works with organizations based in under-resourced communities across the state “to create environments that support youth as leaders of social change.”

The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing “unites national, regional and local grantmakers and youth organizing practitioners dedicated to advancing youth organizing as a strategy for youth development and social transformation.”

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