Youth at the Center: Building Trust and Being Available

The transition into adulthood includes countless “firsts” – a first resume, first job, first college experience, first time moving out, first chance to pursue a passion.

Navigating those firsts can have many moving parts, like staying connected to a community and finding the right resources when they’re needed.

Vincent Coronado wears a hat for each need: mentor, career advisor, resume builder, and resource connector, to name a few.

In his role as Big Thought’s Opportunity Advisor, Vincent works closely with youth entering young adulthood who have previously participated in Big Thought programs. The aim is to amplify their individual toolkits in preparation for higher education or workforce entry.

Shortly into his time at Big Thought, Vincent became leader of the Youth Advisory Council – a team of Big Thought program alums who meet monthly for personal and career development workshops. They also act as advisors to Big Thought’s board and staff, providing their insight to organizational decisions.

The young adults on the team are simultaneously stakeholders and shareholders, a design that embodies Big Thought’s foremost value, “Youth at the center of every decision.”

Through a partnership with Opportunity Youth United, the Youth Advisory Council became the Community Action Team (CAT) in fall 2022. The group’s functions remain the same, but they now represent Dallas in a national body of Community Action Teams. The team works to create change within the organization, their communities, and themselves.

Before taking his role at Big Thought, Vincent was a juvenile probation officer – a position that required a calm demeanor, communication skills, and case management skills.

But the most important factor? Trust.

“I had to learn fast how to build trust with young people,” Vincent says. “A young person has been ordered by a court to be on probation – which they don’t necessarily want to be on – and then they have me visiting their house or school, telling them when they have to come to court the next time. Trust-building was key.”

As Big Thought’s Opportunity Advisor, that element hasn’t changed. Big Thought’s foremost value is “Youth at the center of every decision,” and Vincent allows that to guide how he leads the Community Action Team.

“Youth on the Community Action Team aren’t required to work with me, but they keep coming back. We’ve been operating as a team for 16 months, and each young person has expressed that this is one of the safest spaces they’ve been in because of the meetings we have every month and the follow-up I do outside of those meetings. That all continues to build on the trust you’re starting to earn with them.”

Vincent’s availability as a mentor and his ability to create partnerships that resource young people is an asset to the group. This year, a connection with Workforce Solutions resulted in a full-time job for one CAT team member. Vincent worked with another young person via Zoom to build their first resume, then connected them to Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School staff as a potential employee.

“Trust isn’t easy to gain, but once you have it, they’re in,” Vincent says. “That’s what makes it easy to put youth at the center of my decisions – what I do directly affects them. If there’s an opportunity I can give them to help better themselves, I’m gonna send it their way.”

Building bridges and establishing partnerships with outside organizations and individuals is Vincent’s primary focus.

“In the three years I’ve been here, I’ve been building up my own resource pool,” Vincent says. “A lot of times I may not have the immediate answer a young person is looking for, but I know where to find it or who I can ask to get a particular resource for them.”

Sometimes, those resources are critical and time-sensitive.

“Many times, youth can’t afford to wait for things to happen for them. They need things today. Any kind of resource I can provide that’s immediate is definitely clutch in those situations,” Vincent says. “Utilizing those partnerships I’ve created for them is just quicker access to get those necessities or opportunities.”

To other organizations looking to centralize youth, Vincent says it starts with the staff.

“If you hire staff that are passionate and available to put youth first with the decisions they make, that’s going to be the first move to keeping youth at the center.”

For more information about the Community Action team, contact Vincent Coronado.