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Author Archives: Kristin Lennox

  1. Healing Centered Engagement in a Trauma-Informed World

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    Above photo caption: Youth advocates rallied together before a day of legislative meetings to share affirmations and words of encouragement with one another.

    Imagine a world where we have all that we need to thrive. Imagine that this world also celebrates all of our intersectionality. Young people’s potential is not predictable by race, socioeconomic status, or geography. In fact, in this world we never would have created the social constructs of race, but if they were to exist, we are celebrating every identity, culture, and nationality for their differences – we embrace the unique and the unfamiliar. Gender and sexual orientation are expansive and fluid. No one feels othered, left out, or invaluable. Everyone feels accepted, included, and cared for.  

    This is the kind of imagination cultivation that healing centered engagement invites us to do. 

    Collective Trauma 

    Trauma-informed care (TIC) has successfully shifted how we parent, educate, and provide care to children and young people. TIC has supported helpers and providers who were experiencing burnout and fatigue reinvigorate their approaches and pivot from asking What’s wrong with you?! to What happened to you?, allowing us to better support youth who have experienced traumatic events. In health care, TIC has had a significant impact on how we diagnose and treat mental health and behavioral issues. TIC gave us the neuroscience, research, and language to better our understanding of how events and environments can influence our physical reactions to stressors and overall behaviors and wellness. In Virginia, we have seen statewide support of more trauma-informed policies and processes, including legislation that provided funding for the development of regional Trauma-Informed Community Networks (or TICNs).  

    Then in 2020, we had to acknowledge and grapple with collective trauma: the global COVID-19 pandemic and the collective racialized trauma of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many Black and Brown individuals, families, and communities that have been victims of systemic racism. Although these events put a spotlight on trauma as a collective experience, the concept of collective trauma is not new to those with generational and historical trauma in their ancestry because of a violent displacement or diaspora. 

    Collective Healing 

    Dr. Shawn Ginwright, thought leader, educator, and founder of the Flourish Agenda, lovingly calls us in. I recall initially finding Dr. Ginwright’s 2018 think piece on Medium to be challenging in its critique of TIC. I was working full-time as a clinician, and I remember feeling defensive of the TIC framework that had helped me to be more compassionate, empathetic, and holistic in my approach to care work and therapy for young people and families. The article highlights the many shortcomings of a deficit-based framework and urges us to consider structural changes rather than merely addressing individual symptoms of trauma. Through his work with young Black activists out of Oakland, California, Dr. Ginwright shares how he came to realize that collective healing was the first step on our path to collective liberation. During a storytelling session, a young scholar shared that young folks are worth more than the things that have happened to them. Young people are aspirational and hopeful and imagine more for themselves beyond their traumatic experiences.  

    Dr. Ginwright reframes our thinking: if trauma can be collective, then so must healing.  

    Healing centered engagement (HCE) is comprised of four tenets. Per Flourish Agenda, the HCE framework…  

    1) is explicitly political, rather than clinical 

    2) is culturally grounded and views healing as the restoration of identity 

    3) is asset driven and focuses on the well-being we want, rather than the symptoms we want to suppress, and 

    4) supports adult providers with their own healing. 

    HCE also examines the individual and interpersonal changes required for institutional change to be truly possible and lasting. 

    “Healing Centered Engagement is a paradigm shift that confronts racism and racial inequity by examining an individual’s core values and beliefs, and the way those values and beliefs can impact our interpersonal relationships as well as our relationship to systems, institutions, policies and practices.” (Flourish Agenda) 

    Healing Centered Engagement at Voices 

    Opportunities to be fully seen and accepted have healing properties. When we can be in community with those that not only accept but embrace our intersectional identities, we feel valued and empowered.  

    When we first assembled Virginia’s Youth in Action, our initial goal was influencing Virginia policy with the wisdom and expertise of young leaders across the state. Naturally, we looked to HCE for guidance. We included personal and cultural storytelling in the group’s orientation session and witnessed our youth leaders quickly become a community, eager to celebrate and root for one another. In the months that we grew and learned together, we did not anticipate the possibility of multigenerational healing. As we prepared for our annual Youth Advocacy Day at the General Assembly, we did not realize we were creating opportunities to strengthen personal and familial narratives as parents and caregivers witnessed the next generation’s advocacy and truth-telling. 

    (Caption: Advocates participated in collaborative artmaking as we imagined better mental health systems for our communities.) 

    We also joined with mental health providers, agencies, and community healers to host Healing for the Healers, an advocacy day with a focus on mental health. Amid the busy, frenzied halls of power, we led a healing circle to reflect on who and what we imagine for our communities. We created intentional space for healing and anchored ourselves in hope and possibility. 

    As we built on our strong foundation in trauma-informed care and realized all of the possibilities in becoming an HCE-forward organization, the Voices team began to look inward. We formed the “Healing, Equity, and Restoration Team,” lovingly abbreviated to HEART. Although still nascent, we know that committing to how we heal and restore ourselves as individuals will help us work better together as colleagues seeking equity and lasting change. 

    Imagination, possibility, creativity, joy, and rest – these are some of the outcomes of leading with HCE that we have witnessed and experienced. We know that healing-centered work is not new to many Virginians, especially Black, Brown and Indigenous communities who incorporate collective healing practices into daily living. We also know that there is still much work to be done in Virginia so that every person in the Commonwealth feels seen, accepted, celebrated, and cared for. We believe HCE can help lead the way, and we invite our colleagues, partners, and communities to join us on the journey. 

  2. Young Advocates Take on the General Assembly

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    On a rainy Tuesday during the first full week of Virginia’s 2023 General Assembly session, eighteen advocates took the Virginia legislature by storm. This group, ranging in age from 13 to 21, included members of Virginia’s Youth in Action, Pretty Purposed, and some returning advocates who had previous virtual advocacy experience.


    Youth advocates enjoyed a photo scavenger hunt that took them around Downtown Richmond. Photography by advocate Jonathan Jackson.

    On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the day before our advocacy day, our staff and youth advocates convened for a full day of training. After some ice breakers and team building, advocates prepared for media opportunities with Shannon Strategies. The Voices policy team worked with advocates in smaller groups to review bills being presented this session and to practice storytelling and public speaking strategies. After a photo scavenger hunt that took youth around downtown Richmond, the group closed the day by making Valentines for legislators and doing final preparations for advocacy day.

    Advocates and the Voices team had fun with Polaroid cameras, provided by The Spark Mill

    Fired up and ready to go! Our Voices team rallied youth advocates for an early morning start from the Marriott. Photography by Ty Begley, Z2B Photography

    Our Youth in Action Advocacy Day started with some grounding and rallying at the Marriott before heading over to the Pocahontas Building.

    Broken into five smaller groups, advocates held an impressive 22 legislative meetings, with several of them meeting their own representatives. Advocates shared personal stories about their experiences with school belonging, school based and crisis mental health, and gun violence.

    Zee and Nya Byrant met with their representative, Del. Hudson.

    Advocacy often includes sharing difficult personal stories, but advocates Kayla, Kennedy, and Ava were able to find joy and laughter throughout the day.

    Starting the day off on a high note with an 8:00 AM meeting with Del. Glass.

    The day culminated in a bipartisan press conference led by VAYA Advocates, Ishika Vij and Heciel Nieves-Bonilla, on the urgent mental health needs of young people. They were joined in support by Senator McClellan, Delegate Brewer, Senator Favola, Senator McPike, and Delegate Rasoul.

    “When I was facing a mental health crisis, my counselor was not properly equipped to connect me to resources, and instead, she waited until there was severe suicidal ideation to provide access to receive additional help. – Ishika Vij

    “Some of the major problems those seeking [mental health support] face is the inequity of service, whether based on poverty level, race, occupation, gender, language, immigration status, transportation capacity, or zip code. – Heciel Nieves-Bonilla

    Watch the full press conference here.

    As Ishika and Heciel proceeded with an interview about student mental health for ABC8 News, advocates met with Secretary of Health & Human Services, Secretary John Littel, to hear more about how the Youngkin administration is approaching regional mental health needs, followed by a brief Q & A.

    Finally, with a last rally through the Capitol, advocates were recognized and celebrated with an introduction in the House (by Delegate Adams) and in the Senate (by Senator Mason).

    The Voices team is inspired and in awe of the incredible and courageous work that our advocates have already done this legislative season and are excited for more to come from Virginia’s Youth in Action. We are thankful to all the supporters and hosts we met at the General Assembly and the Capitol. We are so grateful to Ty Begley of Z2B Photography for capturing our most precious moments throughout the day. We are also thankful for our advocates’ greatest cheerleaders and champions – the parents, guardians, educators, and helpers that have shaped them into the passionate and bright young minds they are today.

    Learn more about Virginia’s Youth in Action and sign up to receive policy news from the General Assembly every Friday in our Voices from the Capitol emails.

  3. Introducing the Members of Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA)

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    Voices for Virginia’s Children is proud to announce the inaugural members of Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA). Before starting my role here at Voices, I was a mental health clinician at ChildSavers, a non-profit in Richmond that provides children’s mental health services and child care resources. After years of working one-on-one with my clients, it was clear that even the best therapies I offered could not overcome the impact of the prolonged poverty, systemic racism, and ongoing community violence so many children and youth were experiencing in Richmond. I made the difficult decision to leave full-time clinical work and join the Voices’ team with the hopes that I could advocate for a better, more comprehensive mental health system for children.

    Part of my role is to empower young people with lived experience to share their stories for change using a healing-centered model. With VAYA, our goal is to further participants’ empathetic, inclusive perspectives of others through evidence-based, healing-centered curriculums that show the connections between culture, community, and social economics. We hope to strengthen the public speaking, advocacy, and leadership skills of each participant so they are empowered to use their individual and collective voice to make progress in areas where change is slow and unjust. Most importantly, we aim to equip these young leaders to meet the moment as society’s most marginalized communities continue to be underrepresented in decision making.

    We received over 60 applications for this inaugural cohort and spent a tremendous amount of time narrowing down the group to 12 individuals. Learn about VAYA and this year’s participants here.

  4. Recap: Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week (August 2022)

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    This blog post was written by Voices intern Cat Atkinson.

    “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian artist, scholar, and activist.

    This year marked Virginia’s 3rd Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week (RTRW); a virtual week-long conference hosted by Voices for Virginia’s Children. This year’s RTRW took place August 22-27, 2022. The mission of RTRW is to empower the voices and experiences of marginalized communities in acknowledgment of truth to promote healing, reconciliation, and justice for children and families. This week promotes the reckoning of our past to reconcile our present and future. In this blog post, we’re taking a look back at this year’s themes and workshops.

    RTRW seeks to advance policies that dismantle systems that perpetuate racial trauma, oppression, and inequity by educating Virginians, encouraging advocacy and activism, promoting equity, inclusion, and justice, and uplifting the voices, truths, and experiences of communities of color.

    As we continue to navigate divisive political landscapes and strive to promote trauma-informed healing, compassion, and justice, we intentionally selected RTRW themes to reflect the intersections of current events, history, culture, time, and policy that we find ourselves in. RTRW 2022 highlighted the themes of “Good Troublemaking: Necessary Trouble to Enact Change”, “Voices of Virginia’s Future: Highlighting Young Advocates”, and “Activists and Organizational Change: Reckoning and Reconciling Our Truth”, centering the voices and stories of youth and community members as the experts on their lived experiences in these topics.

    “Our kids were born for this time.” – Ann Zweckbronner, Parenting an Activist

    Over the course of the week, we had 19 workshops, 31 presenters, and 586 registrants from 29 states and Canada! RTRW went international! We had attendees from state agencies, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, students, youth, parents, and more. 95% of those polled were satisfied with the programs and 98% of those polled thought the content was relevant to their work. We have been celebrating the community that RTRW has created by continuing to engage with repeat attendees over the years.

    Graphic featuring the words Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week 2022 followed by four purple circles each containing text. The first says 19 workshops. The second says 2,171 registrations. The third says 31 presenters. and the last one says 586 registrants. Followed by a grey bar containing the racial truth and reconciliation logo at the bottom.A graphic that says Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week 2022 at the top followed by the words 29 u.s. states participated and Canada and an icon of the globe. At the bottom there is a grey bar with the RTR logo in the center.
    The workshops this year highlighted the importance of community partnership and the collective liberation of the communities we uplift through advocacy. We engaged in conversation about DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion and justice) within organizations and communities, we discussed the importance of understanding intersectionality, how to support and encourage social justice advocacy within youth and cause “good trouble” within our social system to bring about radical change. There was collective storytelling, intentional self-reflection, engagement with new lenses of focus, and a buzz of energy from attendees and organizers to take this work back to their own spaces. In one week, we got to see the power of community engagement in mobilization for radical change.

    Let us continue to work together:

    Upcoming Coalition & Committee Meetings:

    Learn More About Advocacy:

    • Legislative Advocacy Guide: This comprehensive guide describes advocacy through the Virginia legislative process and gives specific instructions on how to communicate with elected officials.
    • Watch livestream or view recordings of House and Senate committee meetings.
    • Who’s My Legislator? Click here, then type in your address to find your Virginia representatives.

    Support Voices’ Work:

    • Voices is able to convene events like RTRW that ignite change in pursuit of healing, reconciliation, and justice thanks to your generous contributions. Please consider giving a gift to support the dedicated work of Voices staff in putting together RTRW and other events focused on improving the lives of Virginia’s children.
    • Make your one-time or recurring gift online by clicking here.

    Racial Truth and Reconciliation News:

  5. Announcement: New Youth Development Program by Voices

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    We are excited to announce a new youth development program at Voices for Virginia’s Children. This new program is in the early stages of planning, and we’re delighted to be working with Tiara Whitfield, CEO of AdoLESSONS LLC, a Richmond-based consulting firm, whose extensive experiences in youth development programming have been an asset on this journey. This youth development program will enhance young people’s ability to engage with legislators and decision-makers to advance their communities through advocacy, storytelling, and community engagement.

    How It Will Work

    This August, we are launching several compensated focus groups with youth and young adults, to help determine everything from the program name to learning objectives. We are also spending time connecting with existing youth programs and partner organizations that have been leaders in this work.

    Our inaugural group will be open to Virginia residents between the ages of 15 – 25. Members will be paid a stipend for their participation throughout the year. In August and September, we aim to begin recruiting ten pilot group participants for our first cohort, with workshops beginning in September 2022. Program participants will take part in training that will prepare them for state-level legislative advocacy for the 2023 Virginia General Assembly. After the legislative session, this year’s pilot program will continue building skills and strategizing year-long advocacy initiatives and projects.

    What Participants Will Gain

    Through participating in this program, members will accomplish the following:

    • Understand the legislative process and procedures in Virginia.
    • Develop skills in leadership, storytelling, social change, advocacy and activism.
    • Inform and advise policymakers on legislation pertaining to young people, families, and their communities.

    Youth development programs benefit their participants in many ways, enhancing or improving soft skills, social skills, and social emotional learning. Our goal is to provide evidence-based, healing-centered curriculums that show the connections between culture, community, and economics and that further participants’ empathetic, inclusive perspectives of others. We hope to hone participants’ public speaking, advocacy, and leadership skills and empower participants to use their voices, passions, and skills to make progress in areas where change is slow or unjust and at moments when society’s most marginalized communities are underrepresented.

    How We Got Here

    In 2019, Voices for Virginia’s Children hosted our first Foster Care Advocacy Cohort, a landmark pivot towards truly incorporating young voices and lived experiences in our policy work and advocacy. In our mission to champion public policies that improve the lives of Virginia’s children, we have created opportunities piece by piece for young people to have seats at the table. For several years we continued to develop advocacy cohorts to center young voices and stories, culminating in this year’s inaugural Youth Advocacy Cohort, our youngest group of advocates to date, ranging from 14 – 25 years old. As we continue to convene young people and generate opportunities for them to participate in the change that would liberate us all, it is essential to empower and activate these young advocates and leaders. We began imagining a program that could mentor, nurture, educate, and train young changemakers. We dreamed of a space where youth could learn about power, equity, justice, storytelling, and the legislative process so that they would have the skills to not only take their seats at the table but also to lead the whole meeting.

    Young people are critical partners in the work of imagining and building a more just and equitable Virginia. With this developing program, we are grateful to be positioning ourselves to be the voices of Virginia’s children and young people and enhancing our ability to develop youth advocates. We are thankful to our partners and youth consultants in developing this program and are looking forward to what is to come.

  6. RTRW 2022: Themes and Presentations


    We are looking forward to our third year recognizing Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week, August 22 – 28, 2022. Each year, we intentionally select RTRW themes to reflect the intersections of current events, history, culture, time, and policy that we find ourselves in. This year is no different as we continue to navigate divisive political landscapes and strive to promote trauma-informed healing, compassion, and justice at the center of our own work. This year, we have also experienced the power and importance of letting young voices influence and inform decisions that will impact them, their families, and their well-being the most.

    This year’s themes are:

    • Good Trouble: Necessary Trouble to Enact Change
    • Voices of Virginia’s Future: Highlighting Young Advocates & Activists
    • Organizational Change: Reckoning & Reconciling Our Truth

    This year, we are approaching RTRW with a renewed drive to incorporate community voices and stories. As such, we are announcing a call for proposals for each day of these themes.

    Presentations must be:

    • A minimum of 45 minutes and a max of 90 minutes in length
    • Presented virtually, August 23 – 25, 2022
    • In line with the Racial Truth & Reconciliation Mission & Goals

    If you or your organization are interested in presenting at this year’s Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week, read on to see which theme may be the best fit for you and your content.

    Good Trouble – Necessary Trouble to Enact Change
    Presenting on Tuesday, August 23, 2022

    “Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.” – Congressman John Lewis

    Proposals for this theme may include (but are not limited to):

    • Workshops incorporating advocacy, activism, changemaking, etc.
    • Discussions of the varying roles in social change
    • Persevering through challenging political landscapes
    • Self- and community-care in the face of political and systemic adversities
    • Community roundtables/panels on how local leaders and community members are getting into “Good Trouble”
    • Storytelling and/or artistry celebrating the spirit of “Good Trouble”

    Voices of Virginia’s Future: Highlighting Young Advocates & Activists
    Presenting on Wednesday, August 24, 2022

    “There’s a moment where you have to choose whether to be silent or stand up.” – Malala Yousafzai

    Proposals for this theme may include (but are not limited to):

    • Community roundtables/panels comprised of young people
    • Workshops about outreach and engagement with young people
    • Discussions on how to effectively support and listen to young people
    • Presentations on the landscape of youth and young people in advocacy and activism
    • Workshops incorporating youth development, mentorship, etc.
    • Storytelling and/or artistry celebrating young peoples’ advocacy and activism

    Organizational Change: Reckoning & Reconciling Our Truth
    Presenting on Thursday, August 25, 2022

    “Unless an organization sees that its task is to lead change, that organization will not survive.” – Peter Drucker

    Proposals for this theme may include (but are not limited to):

    • Workshops incorporating organizational change theory
    • Community discussions on themes of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice
    • Presentations on organizational change, accountability, growth, etc.
    • Facilitated discussions on leading, managing, and embracing organizational change
    • Storytelling, truth telling, and/or artistry centering around organizational change and growth

    Proposals may be submitted here by Friday, July 15, 2022.
    For further questions or support needs, contact Kristin Lennox,

  7. Reflections From Our 2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort


    As the 2022 General Assembly session winds down, the Voices team is reflecting back on this session’s achievements, challenges, and future opportunities. Included in our reflections is the inspirational and incredible work of the young advocates in our Youth Advocacy Cohort. 

    15 young change-makers met with 15 legislators during the Voices’ Youth Advocacy Day during the second official week of session. Cohort members shared their reflections on the experience and offered some advocacy wisdom that would be valuable to any aspiring or experienced advocates:

    “We can make a difference…if we get more people to think like us or to hear us, it will inspire [others]. For as long as I can remember I’ve been speaking up for others…even if I am an introvert, even if I don’t like people knowing my life I’ve always spoken up because I know that…if you do it, it inspires [others] to do it…How are they gonna know what’s happening if we don’t tell them? If you don’t speak up, they’re gonna assume that you’re okay, or they’re gonna assume things on their own… That’s why it’s important to tell your story and tell them your experiences so that way they have an idea of what’s going on… and get an idea of how to help you.” – Naomi, 17 years old

    “Keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t let anybody dim your purpose. Don’t let anybody dim what you really want to talk about, because you never really know who the right person will be that you effect… You could really change somebody’s life with what you talk about. Keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever let anybody silence your voice. Don’t ever let YOU silence your voice. Understand the importance of what you do… Keep pushing, because one day it will really pay off.” – Jonathan, 15 years old

    “They’re just people… They are just human beings… They have feelings and emotions and they can understand and grasp where you’re coming from… [Advocacy] isn’t something that has to be scary and hard.” – Grace, 14 years old

    “They need our perspective and they really appreciate what we have to say… It’s not just us coming to people that aren’t really interested and don’t really want to listen. They really, really want to know what we have to say.” – Chanel, 19 years old 

    “Just keep going… They don’t know what’s going on until you speak up, and who best to tell them what’s going on then the people that are going through it right now? I always say, even if your voice wobbles, even if you can’t speak English all the way, even if you don’t fully know what’s going on at the legislative level, you know what’s going on with you and you need to share that story with the people who are making those rules and those policies.” – Nicole, 24 years old

    “Talk about an honor. Literally, since the first meeting we had, you have been such an inspiration…you guys are really just inspirational. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. It could be the page in someone else’s survival guide.’ So, keep advocating, keep going…I know you guys shook any room that you were in. Just keep going. Never let anyone discourage you from whatever you’re passionate about… Keep fighting the fight.” – Drew, 25 years old

    Although this session and changing administration brought unique challenges, we’re grateful for the memorable opportunities ahead for all of Virginia’s young changemakers and advocates. Check out our pre and post-test results for the advocacy day below:

  8. Voices’ Youth Advocacy Day Recap


    (Pictured above: Cohort members and Voices’ staff take a “before” picture before embarking on their legislative meetings.)

    “Keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever let anybody silence your voice. Don’t ever let you silence your voice. Understand the importance of what you do… Keep pushing, because one day it will really pay off.” – Jonathan, 15 years old, from Hampton, VA


    Our 2022 Advocacy Cohort completed their Youth Advocacy Day on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. Fifteen youth and young adults, ages 14 – 25, divided into four small but mighty groups to meet with fifteen policymakers (a combination of Delegates and Senators) throughout the afternoon. Advocates presented on key issues impacting themselves and their communities such as the state of youth mental health, improvements for the foster care system, needed supports and protections for LGBTIQIA+ youth, and equitable access to health coverage.

    “I talked about being trans and the discrimination that LGBTQ kids face in schools, and the fact that we endure so much… People are really hateful and spiteful and say horrible things… I’ve been asking for there to be some sort of set punishment and just understanding of why [these protections] are so important.” – Grace, 14 years old

    “Whether we’re fighting for health care or mental health services or more inclusive classrooms or more inclusive language or anything of that nature, my main thing was just making sure that we’re considering our young people every step of the way, because the choices that our policymakers and legislators make today, we’re gonna have to deal with tomorrow.” – Elijah, 14 years old

    Several cohort members and Voices’ staff meet with Del. Conyer

    (Pictured above: Several cohort members and Voices’ staff meet with Del. Conyer.)

    “Mental health is the same thing as your physical health. It’s just as important, if not more important, so we really need to prioritize that and make it so that everybody has equal opportunities.” – Aaliyana, 16 years old

    “I talked about how bullying is equated to hate crimes at the moment and how that’s just unacceptable because they are two very different things. I asked a lot of the people we spoke with to start building [more protective] systems into schools.” – Chanel, 19 years old

    Cohort members presenting to Sen. McClellan’s office with Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey

    (Pictured above: Cohort members presenting to Sen. McClellan’s office with Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey.)

    “There’s just a lack of help… because of language access. I also talked about health insurance and… the human right to just being able to access [medical and mental health treatment].” – Naomi, 17 years old

    Cohort members advocate for youth mental health support with Del. Delaney

    (Pictured above: Cohort members advocate for youth mental health support with Del. Delaney.)

    Advocates meeting with Sen. Mason’s offices with Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath

    (Pictured above: Advocates meeting with Sen. Mason’s offices with Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath.)

    Originally scheduled to be a series of in-person events and legislative meetings, the cohort quickly pivoted in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases and worked together to support and encourage one another throughout the virtual advocacy day. Cohort participants worked with Policy Team members to practice storytelling and connecting their experiences to policy and upcoming legislation.

    This group of changemakers left legislators and the Voices’ team completely inspired, moved, and awe-struck. We know their courageous storytelling is making incredible impact and we were honored and humbled to support them on their advocacy journeys.

  9. Welcome our 2022 Advocacy Cohort!

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    Please welcome our 2022 Advocacy Cohort!

    We are so honored to introduce the members of our 2022 Advocacy Cohort. This group of inspirational youth and young adults is diverse in age, region, advocacy experience, and lived experience. They are excited, eager, and enthusiastic about the work ahead.

    The Advocacy Cohort is in conjunction with Pretty Purposed, a mentorship organization with community-based and school-based programming in Richmond, VA, and the surrounding counties. “Pretty Purposed inspires communities to empower girls and young women.”

    Ava, 15 (she/her), with Brown Ballerinas for Change

    “Be the change you were created to be. Advocacy has no age or limits. You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams.”


    Chanel, 19 (she/her)

    “The voices and experiences of the youth are essential for a better-quality future.”

    Drew, 24 (she/her)

    “Be who you needed when you were younger.”

    Elijah, 14 (he/him), with Hear Our Voices

    “When youth are able to come to the table on the issues that affect us, true and long-lasting systemic change is possible.”

    Nicole, 24 (she/her)

    “Fred Rogers says, ‘It’s easy to say not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. Then there are those who see the need and respond.’ Well here we are, and we are ready to respond and advocate! Virginia is a community worth fighting for!”

    Saniya, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.”

    Tayonna, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    “I am the future for the positive change.”

    Grace, 14 (she/her)

    “I am a trans child and I have a voice that I need to use.”

    Melissa, 23 (she/her)

    “We must come together in one another’s shared experiences and differences as we start to rebuild our communities. It’s no secret it has been a tough few years, but for many the pandemic and ongoing racial injustice has added to the hurt and hardships. People are tired. We need support. We need solutions. We need a system that prioritizes humanity. We need to create a new ‘normal’ and take action that moves us forward.”

    Kennedy, 15 (she/her), with Brown Ballerinas for Change

    Naomi, 17 (she/her)

    “I would say what most inspired me to join the cohort, was my history teacher. She made me see that my opinions matter and that I should fight for what I believe in, she teaches me every day something new and encourages me to keep fighting for myself and my community.”


    2022 Advocacy Cohort members not pictured:

    De’marya, 16 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed, said: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

    Aaliyana, 16 (she/her), said: “As young people, we have the responsibility of pursuing and advocating for change so future generations won’t have to experience the same struggles.”

    Jonathan, 15 (he/him), with Hampton World Changers Ambassadors

    Talia, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    Brook’lyn, 14 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    Oniya, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed 


    Supporting this cohort are:

    Lotoria Fowlkes, volunteer and mentor with Pretty Purposed

    Kristin Lennox, Advocacy & Engagement Manager with Voices for Virginia’s Children

    Sign up to receive news about our advocacy cohort and their upcoming advocacy day in January.

  10. 2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort Application

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    Voices for Virginia’s Children is establishing a small cohort of youth advocates, comprised of young change makers, to join us for Advocacy Days at the General Assembly in January 2022. This cohort will learn how to share their stories and experiences with others and provide feedback on policies that affect them. The purpose of the cohort is to create a space for youth to have a voice at the table and establish meaningful change and influence in the systems that have impacted their lives. Included in this opportunity are at least three mandatory training opportunities to develop skills in storytelling and advocacy, $500 compensation (contingent upon participation in all activities), and an overnight stay in Richmond, Virginia (provided by Voices for non-Richmond area residents). The advocacy day event will include a day of legislative visits, a press briefing, and a round table discussion with key administrative staff. The MLK Day Rally (January 17, 2021) and the advocacy day (January 18, 2021) are both in-person events.

    As the only statewide, multi-issue advocacy organization for children and youth, we have several policy areas that would center youth voice and advocacy. As youth apply, they are encouraged to consider their own lived experiences in the following areas. 

    • Foster Care & Child Welfare: You have personally experienced or witnessed a close relative live with non-relatives, relatives, such as grandparents, re-unification with parents or once been at risk of not being placed with family due to a lack of supports. You want to transform the way the world supports families and other young people so that they do not experience the same.   
    • Early Childhood Education: You have personally experienced or witnessed conditions that decrease the ability for all children to experience thriving childhoods. You want to increase access to a quality early childhood education for children so that they can learn, play, and thrive. You want to transform conditions, such as childcare so caregivers can work, provide for their families, and youth are no longer having to choose between providing for their families, caring for their siblings, or attending school. 
    • Community Wealth: You have personally experienced or witnessed conditions of poverty or racism. You want to build wealth for your community and generational wealth for your family by increasing community supports, including housing, more after school or out of school programs, and funding that connects families to resources that decrease poverty. You desire a more promising future for your community, regardless of where an individual lives, works, or plays. You wish to dismantle racism and envision world communities are not plagued by racial, historical, or environmental traumas that contribute to community violence.
    • Community Health: You have personally experienced barriers and challenges to healthcare or have used public health insurance, such as Medicaid. You believe everyone deserves access to quality health outcomes and that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their cultural identity, such as race, ethnicity, gender, ability, or age. You believe health should be viewed with a broader lens and want to champion solutions that increase access to care all children to transform conditions that communities of color unjustly experience, such as cancer, obesity, or diabetes.  
    • Food & Nutrition: You have experienced or witnessed challenges accessing healthy and nutritious foods, such as living in a community with no nearby grocery stores or financial challenges to putting food on the table. You want to create a society where everyone is healthy and well and believe in diverse solutions, including eliminating barriers related to one’s immigration status, increasing access to healthy and nutritious foods, drinking water in schools, and wellness days.
    • Mental Health: You have personally needed mental health or behavioral services or resources, such as substance use services, counseling, or in-patient hospitalization. You believe mental health and behavioral health should be normalized and envision a world where supports are no longer seen as a stigma. You believe young people should lead the input to increasing mental health in schools and in their communities, whether peer led, school-based, culturally appropriate, or safe. You envision a world where youth have access to quality mental health and behavioral health services in hospitals, schools, and in their communities.
    • Economic Justice: You or your family have personally experienced not being able to meet your basic needs or struggling to. You believe that every child should have access to food, clothing, and housing. You don’t believe people should be shamed for needing help and want to create general wealth for your families and equalize unequal starting places in life due to poverty or the way in which racism impacts access to financial wealth. You seek to create a world where communities can survive, seek stability, and thrive.
    • Racial Truth and Reconciliation: You have personally experienced or witnessed racial and historical traumas, such as slavery or the indigenous trail of tears and the long-term impacts of that which follow youth and children in their communities, schools, and institutions. You have additionally experienced or witnessed racism and the conditions it creates and want to dismantle racism in every society or system, including the foster care system, the school-to-prison pipeline, racism as a public health crisis, and police brutality. You believe that communities should be viewed as agents in the creation of their change and want to create systems that foster healing and resilience instead of trauma. You envision a world where every child has access to a just future, regardless of their race or ethnic identity.

    Youth (up to 25 years of age) must complete an application to be considered for this opportunity. Youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQIA+ are strongly encouraged to apply. Deadline for submission is close of business Wednesday, November 24. Youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQIA+ are strongly encouraged to apply. Events on January 17 and 18 are in-person, and masks will be mandated regardless of vaccination status.

    Please contact Kristin Lennox at for more information.