YI got its start in 2009 as a D.C.-based volunteer organization advocating to expand health care access for young people who needed it most. One of those young people still stands out to me – a young man from Wisconsin who had Crohn’s disease, a chronic condition. The protections in the Affordable Care Act designed for people with conditions like his were going to change the course of his entire life: they would allow him to avoid a lifetime of discrimination, and to have access to more affordable, real insurance that provided him with the coverage he needed for the first time. He knew he needed to shout that from the rooftops, and so he readily agreed to fly all the way out to D.C. to share his story with lawmakers about what this policy change would mean to him.
Little did he know that the process of helping him share his story would change the entire course of my own life.
That seemingly simple idea – to lift up the voices of young people particularly impacted by a variety of new and growing financial challenges – became a hallmark of what YI would do going forward. We realized there were too few opportunities for our generation to make themselves heard in the halls of power, and so we quickly transitioned to become a full-time organization dedicated to changing that. We have come a long way since then, with offices in five states and D.C., and a staff that spend their days running policy and advocacy campaigns around jobs, higher education, and health care, elevating those same voices in order to change policy that impacts them most.
These days in particular, the work feels so important. Our generation faces very deep challenges, including the reality of growing economic inequality that layers on top of already-existing social inequities in so many communities across the country. The wealthiest have gotten wealthier, while our generation faces ever-more difficult odds in our attempts to attain financial security. A good job is harder to find, the education that leads to those good jobs is too hard to attain, and the rhetoric and actions of the Administration in Washington demonstrate only disdain for many of the real struggles people face every day.
Despite all of that, I’m optimistic. Young people today make up the most diverse, most tech-savvy, most community-driven generation in history – and Gen Z coming behind us will only build on those trends. Today more than ever, in these trying political times, we see young people organizing more, standing up for their rights, and engaging in local and national political fights. We see this generation remain hopeful and committed, and the thousands of young people that I had the chance to talk to over the course of my time at YI leave me confident that we are the generation that will solve the hard challenges facing our country.
Helping to build an organization that supports our generation as they tackle those challenges has been a true honor, but every founder must pass on leadership at some point. After eight years, it’s time for me to do just that. The YI board will name our next executive director in the coming weeks. That person, together with the YI staff, funders, board, and young advocates across the country, will bring this organization to its next phase and carry on this critical work.
Thank you for the privilege of a lifetime.