I’m sitting in a circle surrounded with four kids. The energy is momentous. One person says one thing and it sparks up a lightbulb in other person, and then their face lights up ready to share their newly brewed thought. They share it and the process repeats over again, and again, steadily building a bonfire fire of ideas that keep us warm, present, and most importantly, connected.

Image: Intern Judy with Northeast Middle School students during one of our Friday sessions.

This is one way of how community engagement with youth looks and feels like to me. When I work with the kids at Northeast Middle School, I can’t help but reach back into my own childhood self. Despite being a sixth year undergraduate at 23 years old (who feels old amongst my own collegiate crowd), I feel right at home with my soul when I work with these kids. Technically, according to the UN, I’m still classified as a “youth” but maybe it’s because I’m still an angsty, overly emotional, depressed, anxiously confused, and an existential teenager at heart. I feel overwhelmed from societal pressure that I still “haven’t figured it out.”

But it’s okay because I’m working with others (who are probably in my similar position) to figure it out — together.

I think there is something implicitly empowering about youths of different generations working together to inspire in each other a desire to generate change. It is also immensely humbling to acknowledge that age isn’t the determining factor of knowledge – wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with old age, it comes with experiences. Community engagement with youth is about listening to young people’s stories and understanding how their lives produce valuable knowledge. It is tapping into the wisdom of the young soul, not suppressing or rejecting it, and cultivating/nurturing it out of love and compassion so it can become a great source of inspiration and motivation to make beautiful, worthwhile change.