Ensuring a Voice for Youth: El Grupo Norte and El Liderato
In 2013, the League released “Engaging Youth In Bicycle Advocacy”, a case study on why youth bike and youth involvement in bicycle advocacy is so important as we build a future that is better for biking. A lot of the obstacles to youth engagement noted in the study, like a lack of bike accessibility and a disconnect between adults and youth when it comes to leadership, are still prevalent today. Many organizations, including the League itself, can better educate themselves on how to not only get more youth involved in biking but make sure young bicyclists feel recognized as an integral part of the bicycling movement.
As part of that work to listen, learn, and collaborate, we endeavored to hear from organizations made for youth and/or guided by youth to best answer the question of how to do this. In a continuing series, we’ll learn more about these groups and their answers. Today, meet El Grupo Norte and their youth leadership council El Liderato. Read our previous blogs here.
About El Grupo Norte
Norte is Northern Michigan’s youth-focused organization that helps people of all ages and abilities keep moving and stay active in their community. They primarily do this through engaging bike programs, offering walking encouragement, safe route to school initiatives, and advocacy training.
Norte’s youth bike programs start by inviting the youngest among us to hop on balance bikes, then move on to their Summer Bike Camp, seasonal mountain bike practice, and their school-based Adventure Bike Club. These latter two programs average nearly 400 young riders combined in the fall and spring. In addition, the Summer Bike Camp serves about 500 individual riders. All of these programs offer opportunities for riders from first through 12th grade. Older riders ride on the varsity mountain bike team and serve as assistant coaches for all three programs. Norte also offers a unique advocacy training program called Explore Academy that teaches teens about community decisions and how to impact them.
About El Liderato: Youth Leadership Council
The Liderato Youth Council is a portion of Norte’s board in which middle and high school students provide input so that the organization continues to prioritize what’s best for the youth. El Liderato members commit to a one-year term and are eager to learn the ins and outs of advocacy to bring about the needed change for safer streets for all. They attend either a 1-hour meeting or a 1-hour volunteer event per month.
In addition to participating in board meetings, Liderato executes various passion projects. For example, Liderato is currently in the very early stages of designing a map that would be distributed to people around the community to raise awareness of the infrastructure that currently exists in Traverse City. The project resulted from recognizing there is a lack of awareness of existing infrastructure by people in Traverse City, not a lack of infrastructure itself. Overall, Liderato is both the youth voice within Norte’s board and an independent philanthropic committee whose goal is to better the cycling community.
What would you like to see other groups, especially national organizations, doing to involve more youth in cycling?
“Passion is the main driving force behind a successful youth cycling organization. Without it, there would be no sense of purpose or belonging within the organization, but luckily youth have a lot of it, so it’s just a matter of matching that energy and providing the support needed to channel it in the right direction. Norte is a prime example of matching the energy of the youth. Everything from the bright and energetic color scheme to the staff who are always supportive of Liderato’s ideas shows how an organization can thrive if there is dedication and a youth focus behind it. In my own personal experience with my passion project of advocating for world-class mountain bike trails at Hickory Hills, a local ski hill, the Norte staff have provided outlets and guidance that have allowed me to navigate my first foray into nonprofit government. Their willingness to have meetings with me and to provide help with funding, policy, and general workings of how to tackle the project has left me with a deeper insight into mature conversations that effectively enact change.” — Will Unger, secretary of El Liderato
If you’re a youth group or cycling organization interested in sharing your tips for involving more youth in cycling, reach out to us at [email protected]. We would love to hear from you!