There are no words to convey my deep gratitude for the experience of the Stories of Change Impact Lab. The Lab offered us an extraordinary opportunity to imagine how YouthBuild USA might dramatically increase the public’s engagement in our work through storytelling. Personally, the Lab provided me a rare chance to reflect on the power of stories to transform us and motivate us to action.
I came to youth development work with a passion for ensuring that all children have the opportunity and support to develop to their full potential. As the founding Executive Director of the first replication site of YouthBuild in 1989 (YouthBuild Boston), I experienced firsthand the power of stories to heal and transform. In the course of their Mental Toughness Training, YouthBuild students shared their stories with one another, seeing that they weren’t alone in their struggles and that their personal problem was much bigger than themselves. I had the privilege of listening deeply to the stories of YouthBuild students and graduates, their experiences at school, their observations about the conditions in their communities. Their collective wisdom profoundly transformed me. And it has transformed every policymaker, funder and media representative who has ever had the chance to sit with them.
For years, my work with YouthBuild USA has focused on organizing gatherings of YouthBuild alums and students to engage in a face-to-face, deep conversation with thought leaders about issues facing young people in low-income communities.
Our challenge, when we entered the Lab, was to take this powerful story resource and find ways to amplify it through the use of technology. Our large team had unparalleled expertise in design, branding and storytelling. Our team facilitator quickly grasped the nuances of our challenge and led us through an amazing process of exploration, helping us turn the idea inside out, examining all the possibilities, the opportunities and the challenges. Throughout, we were continually challenged to “think bigger”, step back and imagine the possibilities. Experiencing the creative process with such a diverse team of design and communication experts was spectacular.
The hardest part of the Lab was that our idea had many complicated aspects to it, and the time for planning was relatively short. The Lab is set up as a bit of a pressure-cooker, with each team presenting its final idea to funders at the end of the week, so the latter part of the week is spent preparing for that final presentation. As someone remarked to me, it had the quality of a “Top Chef” TV show. While creativity under pressure is not always fun, we most definitely came out with a vision for a big, dynamic and exciting project going forward.
Our design team helped us to take a germ of an idea, an unarticulated dream of YouthBuild USA, and develop it into a realizable, bold and nuanced concept. Going forward, we plan to spark a national conversation between YouthBuild alumni and the American public about the national crisis facing youth in low-income communities and the power of opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. We still have a long path ahead to plan, fully develop and implement this project. But we can now see the idea and the path forward. Without hesitation, I can say that we would never have gotten to this place if it weren’t for the Stories of Change Impact Lab, and the incredible, talented team that worked with us there.