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Paying It Forward

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May 24, 2024

At a Glance

As organizations realize how much young people can contribute—and want to contributesome maximize this potential by intentionally hiring former program participants who have expressed a desire to “Pay It Forwardinto newly created paid positions or existing roles in the organizations.

Adria Steinberg Senior Advisor
Practices & Centers Topics


Over the past decade, nonprofit organizations that offer youth development and young adult talent development services have increasingly centered the voices of the young people who are participating in their programs. They have done this by infusing youth-centered practices into their programming and, more formally, creating leadership opportunities such as youth councils and alumni associations. Multisite initiatives bring together youth ambassadors or champions from across different programs. And increasingly, all these efforts are encouraged by both public and philanthropic funding sources. Across the field, organizational leaders are reporting how such practices contribute to both the quality of the programming they offer and participants’ longer-term development of leadership skills.  

As organizations realize how much young people can contribute—and want to contribute—some of them have taken this a step further: Former program participants who have expressed a desire to “pay it forward,” including Zoryna Lealai and Brian Castro, are being intentionally hired for either newly created paid positions or existing roles in the organizations.  

This brief draws from interviews with program leaders and the young people they have hired to highlight how and why four partnering organizations in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s LEAP initiative have brought young people into paid staff positions, what the experience has been like for them, and the meaning they are making of their experience. See Appendix A for a more detailed description of the LEAP initiative as well as the four sites featured in this brief. We explore the potential for growing a pathway to careers in youth and workforce development, especially in LEAP and other organizations that serve young people ages 14 to 25 who have experience in the child welfare and/or juvenile justice systems and/or are parenting and/or have experienced homelessness.  

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