Virginia’s Youth in Action
An Advocacy Council By Voices
Voices for Virginia’s Children is establishing a cohort of young changemakers for our new advocacy council, Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA). 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. 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.
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 or 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 a world where 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 for 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 and increasing access to healthy and nutritious foods, drinking water in schools, and wellness days.
- Mental Health: You have personally needed mental health or behavioral health 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 or struggling to meet your basic needs. 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 generational 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.