Thanks to the Nebraska Children Youth Advisory Board and our Assistant VP of Policy and Leadership, Lincoln Arneal, the CYI Youth Advisory Board, and many young leaders, we finished the third year of LEAD the Summer!
First, we’d like to tell you a bit about CYI. A Nebraska Children initiative, CYI works with young people between 14-26 who experienced foster care, child welfare, homelessness, human trafficking, juvenile justice and probation, and other challenges.
Together, resilient young people and our organization create positive outcomes, especially during retreats like LEAD the Summer, where young people use their voices to create a better Nebraska.
This event, which took place on July 30-31 at Camp Solaris in Firth, Nebraska, encouraged young leaders to work toward their passions, self-betterment, and policy to improve our welfare, foster care, and juvenile justice systems, along with themselves!
Lincoln, the Youth Advisory Board, young adults with first-hand systems experience, and the attendees learned how advocacy works on a community level. The goal of the weekend was to focus on the beginning of advocacy and proactivity, along with our policy changes.
From there, the participants went even more profound.
“We then had them identify their core values,” Lincoln said. “We had everyone share their passion projects using their core values and mission statements. [We asked], ‘What do [you] want to change in the world?’ We ended the weekend by talking about some of the ways they can implement, rally, and create campaigns to [launch] their passion projects.”
Attendees’ passion projects included:
- More support for postsecondary education
- Better sibling visitations and rights
- Peer support/relationships/mentoring
- Positive case reports from case managers
- More programs for service gaps
- Finding support for generations in foster care/ pregnancy planning
- Better de-escalating techniques
- More youth connected to community volunteering at senior homes and fun activities
- Child abuse awareness and resources
- More youth leadership and development opportunities
- Myself (self-improvement)
“We had a lot of time to get to know each other, too. Advocacy is better if you have a group of people who socially connect,” he said.
We’re incredibly thankful to the CYI Advisory Board, which organized and facilitated the weekend.
Lincoln said other participants were from Southeast Nebraska and Lincoln. Interestingly, not everyone had foster care experience; some leaders just wanted to make a positive impact.
Another critical component of this opportunity is that everyone is welcome at no cost.
“This event is important because it’s changing our mindset [for] youth-organized policy approach,” Lincoln said. Lincoln said that relationship-building is one of the best parts of the retreat, along with socializing activities. The group played nine square and Gaga ball, did tie-dying projects and enjoyed meals together.
One of the best things about this retreat is that young leaders can speak their minds.
“A lot of the work we do is reactive to the legislature and what other groups deem as a priority for young people,” Lincoln said. “We want young people to take ownership of policy goals and provide support and structure to implement their passion projects and move the ball with topics and policies.”
Lincoln said one of the Advisory Board members, Fatuma Hassan, was especially captivated by one of the sessions. Fatuma shared with the group how she is working on providing more normalcy around sibling visits. For example, they should be meetings where young people enjoy hanging out instead of office buildings.
“We also discussed peer and academic supports for young people who experienced foster care for the school system,” Lincoln said. “We want to provide mental health support for young people and outlets for them after they experience trauma, too.”
After the retreats, Lincoln and the Advisory Board will work to put these advocates’ ideas into action.
“Our next meeting at the end of August; we plan to use this information at the Citizen Review Panel. Every year we provide recommendations to [the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services] NEDHHS about our lived experience and how they can improve the foster care system under their umbrella,” said Lincoln.
Lincoln said that he and his team cast their net wide over the years.
“Last year, we recommended providing training and more opportunities for young people to have natural hair products,” he said. “Another [initiative] was to allow young people the right not to practice religion. The last was on scholarships and support for [those] who attend postsecondary school.”
In the best-case scenario, when the team presents the information to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, they create lasting change!
Lincoln said, “This past year, the NE DHHS implemented The Red Book, an information-filled booklet about supports and a place for young people to store important documents like birth certificates, identification information, and birth certificates.”
Lincoln said more recently, they talked to DHHS and made them aware of the haircare needs of foster youth and how they can support young people to ensure they get the proper care and styling.
Although motivations aren’t always new, Lincoln said they’re essential for young people.
“We aren’t always creating new rights, but we’re expressly stating these rights that young people should have,” he said.
In addition, young leaders, especially those with lived experience, ignite their passions by driving these changes.
“That spark can come from lived experiences, where they had a bad situation that they got out of; they want to ensure that doesn’t happen for future young people in the system,” Lincoln said. “They want to leave an impact and improve the system from when they entered it. They want to make a difference; this [area] is their expertise.”
Interestingly, even young people who haven’t experienced any systems still possess empathy for creating change.
“Young people who know friends and have peers who have experienced the system want to make the world a better place. They know there’s always room for improvement,” Lincoln said.
If you’re a young person who wants to create positive change, there’s an application for the Youth Advisory Board! Materials are due September 2 for anyone interested. You can apply for a one-year renewable term here.
As an organization supporting positive outcomes in resilient young people, we hope you’ll continue to join these efforts to make your voices heard!