I was twenty-five years old when I started working for Transition US almost four years ago, and since then one of my strong desires has been to engage more young people in our movement. I’ve seen the energy and passion young people bring to social change work. And as the ones who are inheriting a planet in distress, we need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the future.
But there are many barriers to young people participating in Transition. To begin, many “youngers” are struggling to meet their basic needs in an era of economic contraction and soaring student debt, and don’t have the extra capacity for volunteer work. Inter-generational cultural differences can present challenges as well. I’ve witnessed personally, and heard about anecdotally, the disappointment that can occur when energized youth show up to a Transition group full of energy and ideas, only to be met with long, less-than-inspiring meetings or existing group leadership that doesn’t want to relinquish control. Of course, we need to find a middle ground. Youthful exuberance can sometimes lack direction or the knowledge and skills needed to successfully implement a project and turn vision into reality.
What I believe is needed—and what was suggested as an outcome of “Young Adults Day” at the 2015 International Transition Network Conference—is a thoughtful approach to integrating young people into the Transition Movement in a way that supports them in meeting their basic needs and pursuing their passions, while providing them with mentorship and professional development opportunities. There are already several great models of youth-oriented Transition programs that provide exactly that, including One Year in Transition in the UK, Portugal, and Sweden; and Transition Lab here in the US. While Transition Lab is currently on “pause,” founder Russell Evans plans to continue the program in the future and has compiled some wonderful resources for more established Transitioners to support young people in this work (check out his provocative blog post “This Changes Everything. So Now What?” and his Transition US teleseminar “Relationships Through Transition”).
I’m excited to be drawing from both of these models to launch my own experiment in supporting youth in Transition: a 3-month Residential Community Resilience Internship this summer. This pilot program will teach community organizing and hands-on resilience-building skills to a small number of interns (1-2) who will receive housing, mentorship, and professional development in exchange for approximately 20 hours/week of their time. Participants will learn about and practice include permaculture design and installation, natural building, homesteading, cooking and food processing, community organizing, group dynamics, project planning and management, writing and communications, fundraising, and more.
My hope is that after completing the internship, participants will be an asset to any Transition Initiative or community resilience group and will have the knowledge and direction to move towards creating a resilient lifestyle and livelihood for themselves, and other Transition Initiatives will want to adopt a similar approach to integrating youth participation into their work.
Photos (from top): EDGE Project, a student-powered sustainability organization I co-founded during college; "Young Adults" Day at the 2015 International Transition Network Conference; and my sister learning how to double-dig.