Why intergenerational connections are a key component to empowering young gxrls in Boston
Note: Throughout this article, we use the terms “womxn” and “gxrl” as terms to include anyone, including transgender, non-binary, genderfluid, polygender, and gender non-conforming people, whose key gender identity, experience, and internal perception on the spectrum of gender is woman or girl.
Since the fall of 2019, YW Boston has been empowering middle school girls in Greater Boston with the F.Y.R.E. Initiative. F.Y.R.E., which stands for Fierce Youth Reigniting Excellence, is a leadership program that takes place in school or during Out of School Time programs and it incorporates social justice education, positive identity development, and civic engagement. As part of its curriculum, the F.Y.R.E. Initiative emphasizes the importance of healthy relationships, including those between adults and youth, in order to build a solid foundation for self-advocacy and social-emotional learning.
As part of the program, F.Y.R.E. participants—also called igniters—are empowered to assess racial and gender inequities in the City of Boston. During the program, gxrls learn about historical and contemporary racial and gender equity movements. In turn, igniters increase their capacity to engage in advocacy, policy change, and to lead others to act on issues important to them. Participants also identify community needs and assets to later build problem-solving skills and identify solutions to these needs.
Intergenerational connections are a key part of amplifying the impact of young gxrls’ advocacy and leadership. By building healthy relationships with adults in their lives, young gxrls’ are able to experience formal and informal mentorship, see themselves represented in leadership, get connected to resources and opportunities, and more. And although often times having quality relationships with caring adults in their life is beneficial to young people’s academic, professional, and personal journeys, it’s important to remember that these connections are mutually meaningful. It is not just youth who benefit from these connections, but adults have a lot to learn and gain as well. As F.Y.R.E. Speaker and Commissioner Shaitia Spruell describes it, “Even though we are all leaders and changemakers here, we are all still learning from each other on the way up.”
As with any relationship building, fostering strong, healthy intergenerational connections with youth relies on trust, active and empathic listening, clear and realistic expectations, healthy boundaries, and prioritization of self-care, positive identity, and self-esteem. It is important to remember that when it comes to intergenerational connections between youth and adult mentors, adults must check their own biases against youth and critically explore what is known as adultism, which describes “behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people are, and that they are entitled to make decisions for young people without their agreement.” Ultimately, it is crucial to understand the unequal power balance that can be present within these intergenerational connections and that it is the adult’s responsibility to respect the trust that was built within the relationship.
Opportunities for intergenerational connections are women throughout the F.Y.R.E. Initiative curriculum and are a key component of the program’s F.Y.R.E. Symposium, an event where igniters and attendees participate in a community action project and have the opportunity to engage with other youth leaders from across Greater Boston. During YW Boston’s F.Y.R.E. Symposium, titled “Igniting Your F.Y.R.E. Within: Sharing our experiences with COVID-19,” igniters were joined by an intergenerational group of supporters dedicated to amplifying the voices of girls as change-makers in Boston. The four-hour event was made special by all of the voices it welcomed into the space. Thank you to each of our Symposium speakers, including Beth Chandler, President and CEO, YW Boston, Commissioner Shaitia Spruell, Commissioner, Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, Representative Liz Miranda, State Representative of the 5th Suffolk District, and Keynote Speaker Portia Blunt, Vice President of Apparel at Reebok.
F.Y.R.E. is offered at no charge to students and is funded almost entirely through philanthropic support. You can help us reach even more girls in the Boston area! Please consider making a donation or reaching out to learn how to bring the F.Y.R.E. Initiative to your school or community.
About YW Boston’s F.Y.R.E. Initiative
With the F.Y.R.E. Initiative, launched in the Fall of 2019, YW Boston facilitators conduct a 12-15-week leadership development series for girls grades 6th through 9th. The series brings together social justice education, positive identity development, and civic engagement, culminating in small group civics projects. This model takes place in schools or Out of School Time programs, and it is developed to operate in a “girls group” structure rather than a traditional classroom structure. Core to the program is an effort to provide experiential learning opportunities and dialogue to build understanding and increase social-emotional learning.