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Enhanced Participation: Creating Opportunities for Youth Leadership Development

Clara Waloff

The term “leadership” appears frequently in the language and literature of youth development, and for many after-school programs it is one of many expected developmental outcomes for youth. What characterizes youth leadership development? What do youth participants identify as its key elements? Turning to youth who have been identified as leaders, this article looks at what they have to say about their own experience as emerging leaders.

Working in the youth development field, I saw many examples of participation in after-school programs that involved more than merely showing up, and I began to think about youth development and leadership in terms of enhanced participation. Through interviews, focus groups, and one in-depth arts and research project, youth and alumni from a community-based organization in New York City shared their ideas about leadership development, which are supported by a body of literature about youth development. These young leaders were in high school or college or were out of school altogether. For many, their status as older youth allowed them some perspective on their experience as emerging leaders. One older alumna could compare her current views on leadership development to those she had held several years before.