Bringing Youth Voice Into Important Spaces

Wendy Schaetzel Lesko is the co-founder of Youth Infusion and Youth Activism Project, organizations dedicated to bringing youth voice and participation into collaborative spaces in government, workplaces, and communities. Wendy is the co-author of six books, including Why Aren’t We Doing This! Collaborating with Minors in Major Ways. She has given hundreds of presentations from TEDxYouth to the U.S. State Department International Visitors Leadership Program.

Q: What brought you to the IIRP?

A: Learning about restorative practices in other countries was a key reason I selected the IIRP Graduate School for my studies. My professors and classmates, ranging from a family court judge in South Africa to a Canadian counselor working with indigenous communities, opened up my eyes to the global landscape of this movement.

Q: What does your professional work entail, and what makes you passionate about it?

A: Those who are directly impacted by programs are often the furthest from power. My long-term commitment is helping youth to be intentionally included in the development and evaluation of programs. Although I am not a practitioner, I write about student-led activism on many issues and continue to research young people who are advocating for school boards to fund and expand restorative practices initiatives.

Q: What would you like to see in the restorative practices field in the future?

A: My optimism grows seeing adult-run organizations engage with K-12 students in pursuing systemic change. An example of this is persuading school districts to commit to restorative justice coordinators and training for teachers as well as students. Purposeful intergenerational collaboration is the focus of my latest book, which I co-authored with 19-year-old Denise Webb titled Why Aren't We Doing This! Collaborating with Minors in Major Ways. Based on more than 80 interviews with CEOs, program directors, and teen staff, this 160-page paperback aims to convince nonprofits and government agencies why and how to move from exclusion to authentic youth inclusion to help advance their missions. Imagine if the rising generation, especially those with lived experiences, were thought partners and co-strategists in making restorative practices the norm!