Elevate Omaha: Centering Young People as Community Leaders

Elevate Group

Young people in Omaha are creative changemakers. They navigate education and healthcare systems not created for them. They advocate for justice and equity. However, many feel they need to leave Nebraska to do the work about which they’re passionate.

Elevate Omaha started with a small group of young people who set the vision and values that would steer the organization’s work, named the organization, and developed the four pillars that Elevate Omaha would operate under: advocacy, grantmaking, technical assistance, and youth participatory action research (YPAR).

Elevate Omaha believes in collaboration, connection, and empowerment. We believe in evidence, equity, and the end game. We believe in individual differences, making space, speaking loudly, and speaking truth to power. Elevate Omaha believes in youth.

We show up for youth by investing in a board of directors that is half made up of youth and hiring young people to lead the work we do. We are creating a platform to provide young people with resources to distribute throughout the community to advocate for themselves and others. We are changing who is making funding decisions and putting those decisions where they belong – with young people. We are connecting with other organizations and initiatives to infuse youth into places where decisions are made.

By partnering with and elevating youth researchers as experts, Elevate Omaha generates findings that provide insights into issues faced by young people. Their perspectives are needed in finding practical solutions to complex problems. Through the YPAR framework, youth research partners are trained in research methods and provided adult support and guidance. They create their own projects to explore topics and issues that most affect their lives. Youth connecting with other youth improves data quality, increases the likelihood for actionable findings, and is one of the key investment strategies Elevate Omaha has in recognizing young people as key community partners.

The spirit of YPAR extends beyond just youth. At the heart of this work is a core belief that individuals and communities know themselves better than outsiders. Everyone wins when people are part of the solution rather than passive recipients of services or interventions.

Elevate Omaha champions community-based solutions informed by community-based research. Our organization intentionally centers youth as a key demographic both historically and currently excluded from the planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs and policies that have real-world impacts on their everyday lives.

Young people are part of our neighborhoods and our communities. The decisions adults make today, often with little to no input, buy-in, or consent from youth, affect their lives the most. In the work of making our neighborhoods and communities more accessible, more equitable, and more just, young people must be part of the solution.

We recognize and elevate other intersecting groups that, like youth, are not underrepresented – they are excluded. Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and two-spirit individuals (LGBTQIA2S+), neurodivergent and/or people with disabilities, those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system, foster care systems, and those experiencing homelessness, need to be part of these community and neighborhood conversations.

Making the effort to develop authentic relationships; create safe, affirming, and accessible spaces for generating ideas and collaborating; and shift power to those impacted the most by inequities and interventions is not only the right thing to do but also the practical way to develop better strategies, more effective interventions, and to co-create with community.

We invite new collaborators and co-conspirators to shift power to our communities and invest in our community strengths and talents.

This guest blog was written by Scout Black, youth participatory action research (YPAR) director at Elevate Omaha. 

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