square bulletEnvironments that Encourage Voice, Choice, and Empowerment Start with Intentional Listening

August 18, 2020

From Isha Charlie-McNeely, Director of Outreach, Inclusion, and Community Engagement, Trauma Informed Oregon

In the past year I stepped into more of a leadership role with our youth and young adult council, Oregon Trauma Advocates Council (OTAC) and it made me realize how much I appreciate working with, as well as learning from, this population. Working with youth is in my comfort zone for several reasons, but just to name a couple; it is where I gained most of my work experience but also my own lived experience because of the direct involvement I had with many of these systems that we are trying to improve.

I want to acknowledge that a lot has changed, and for the better, within the social services systems—but I am shockingly surprised by what hasn’t. I listen to young adults and become somewhat taken aback by how my personal experiences mirror theirs, and that I too, shared the same sentiments on the need for service users to be given a say in their care and direction of their life. I remember transitioning from a service user to a provider and a former mentor of mine said, “the youth might do what you tell them but if it’s not important to them then it won’t stick nor is it useful.”  I’ve carried those words with me throughout my career experience. Regardless of what I think is best or right for an individual that I am serving, it must be a genuine choice for them otherwise all efforts are useless.

Working with Youth

As providers, we must create an environment that encourages individuals to use their voice so that we can specialize their services to meet their needs and the life they want. This starts before the actual service itself. It is important first to get to know them directly,  learn their hopes and desires, and how they want to engage in the service. Next empower them to take an essential role in directing how their service will be delivered, and steps they would like to take to get to their desired goal met.  Allow for choice in what outcomes they would like to meet and give flexibility for things to change. I look at my role as aiding an individual to inform me how best the service I have to offer can meet their needs and goals. Therefore, my role is to help them find their voice in advising me on how they would like to engage, and what they will find useful.

Over the past few months of working with OTAC, I find myself back practicing what I preach and believe. Given the recent traumas that are currently happening in our country today, it is vital that we, as providers, those in power and leadership roles, be intentional in actively listening to what our youth and young adults are trying to tell us. Whether that is about how to best support their education moving forward, their needs around their mental health, their feelings and fears, or whatever else they are want us to know. We are responsible for providing them with care (especially during these wavering times) and it’s most effective and promising if we hear their voices on how best to help them.

Using Their Voices

One way OTAC is using their platform is through generating recommendations on how best for students to stay engaged and get the most out of schooling in a virtual format. Now that most school districts have made the decision to go virtually, council members thought it would be a good idea to share what helped them to stay focused and motivated, as well as be active participants while receiving an online education. These considerations were created by young adults with lived experience, who are giving suggestions, tips and tricks on what they do or did to ensure they were getting the most out of this new way of learning while finding creative ways to stay connected to their classmates and peers.

Learn About OTAC

If interested in Oregon Trauma Advocates Coalition, TIO’s youth advisory Council, and would like to learn more, watch this OTAC Video,  OTAC member Jada Serrano made, and/or feel free to email Charlie McNeely at, and/or attend the next Virtual Zoom OTAC Meeting, Thursday, September 10th at 5:30PM. You will be given a link to join the meeting once you have reached out to Charlie.