Our Story

Perspectives may vary, but there can be no doubt that this is the beginning of a very exciting story…

(As told by Claire Howe, Executive Director)
students at ARC conference

For some time now, I have worked side-by-side with some of the most inspiring, committed, and passionate activists I have ever known… who just happen to be teenagers.

Through my work as a humane educator at H.E.A.R.T., I began facilitating animal rights clubs at Franklin and Cleveland High Schools in Portland, Oregon. Simple concept: club meetings were held once a week, during lunch, discussion topics ran the animal rights gamut, and occasionally, we’d embark on a field trip or volunteer outing. While I was incredibly impressed by the passion of these young people, it didn’t take long for me to realize that there was a desperately lacking sense of community, even in a receptive place like Portland, among young animal rights activists. Yet, as a united front, these people could be unstoppable.

Over time, the clubs built traction, allowing a group of members and I to attend the Animal Rights National Conference. That was a pivotal moment for us. We realized that youth activists were wildly underrepresented and without a deeper sense of community, not just in Portland, but in the modern-day animal rights movement. Then and there, we decided to do something. Together, we consolidated our efforts, organized, and created a stand-alone organization that unabashedly recognizes young people, not just as devoted activists, but as bright, innovative leaders in an evolutionary movement to create a kinder world.

Today, we stand on the cusp of a revolution. Youth for the Voiceless was born from the recognition that young people not only deserve to be heard, they need to be heard. I look ahead with such hope, and I do not doubt that, as each new chapter unfolds for Youth for the Voiceless, this movement will only become stronger.

(As told by Maggie Salter, Founding Youth Member)
three girls pose with rescue pig

September 4th, 2014 marks both the first time I ever attended an animals rights club meeting and what would become Youth for the Voiceless’ (Y4V) first ever meeting. I stepped into a random classroom during lunch as a freshman, not knowing what to expect but excited to see what could come in the 30 minute lunch period ahead of me. The Franklin High School Animal Rights Club is where Youth for the Voiceless all started for me. If you had told me back then that I was going to a piece of the now-finished puzzle we call “Youth for the Voiceless”, I would’ve looked at you like you were crazy. I would never have imagined that in 4 years, we would go from a high school club to a nonprofit organization, but as time went on, it became evident there was a need for the then non-existent Y4V. From going to animal rights marches and protests – and being the only person there under 30 – to going online and seeing the absence of a youth presence in the movement, it was obvious we had a job to do as young adults and advocates to fill that gap. It became clear that we couldn’t just sit back and wait for something to happen or for the generations before us to fix the issues that lay ahead. It was past time to take action, and to be taken seriously, we would have to do just that.

It started as just a thought. Something we weren’t really sure would become anything more than that. As time went on, we started voting on organization names, designing logos, coming up with taglines, and everything else that comes along with starting a non-profit. We started to visit sanctuaries and meet up with the kids from the animal rights club at Cleveland High School. It’s funny to think about the first couple times we all met up and how awkward it was because now we have all become so close. Not long before, we were all strangers, connected only by our passion for animals and a hope to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Y4V was only a figment of our imaginations. Then, it started to sprout into an idea, and finally, it began to materialize and become a palpable product of our hard work.

I’m so incredibly proud of what we as a group have accomplished over the years. As a senior in high school, it will be hard to leave this group of activists, but by being a member and having the opportunity to co-chair the Communications team, I’m starting to figure out what I want to do in the future. This has been such a valuable learning experience for me; it has helped guide me in what I find important, what I could really see myself studying in college, and pursuing after that. It’ll be difficult to not be quite as involved with Y4V as I am now, but on the flip side, it will be super exciting to develop an alumni program for the ever-changing group of amazing young adults that make Youth for the Voiceless the powerhouse of changemakers that it is.

(As told by Jayne Frost, Founding Youth Member)
students hugging for photo

It all began in two high school classrooms in Portland, OR. For me, it truly began with one teacher, one advisor, and four high school students. Every Wednesday, we would meet during lunch to talk about important animal rights issues. Before long, we wanted to do more than sit and have a discussion about the problems.

As a teenager, it is easy to feel like it is not your obligation to be a part of social change because often, people treat you like you aren’t capable of making a difference. However, as a teenager myself, I know this is false. While we are certainly young, there is by no means a deficit of creativity and drive. By harnessing these attributes, our advisor, Claire Howe, and the four of us raised enough money to go to the 2016 Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. Only a few days after this important event, most of us realized that we wanted to do even more. I personally wanted to be on the front lines. What followed was months of back and forth between our two high school clubs. Should we be named this? Should we named that? What’s our logo? I think you get the picture. But the most important part was that it didn’t make sense for us to solely be high school clubs anymore. This resulted in the creation of Youth for the Voiceless, premised on the idea of recognizing young people as capable activists.

While this paints a pretty portrait of how we were created, it wasn’t easy. It has taken persistence and resilience, but we are here, and this is just the first chapter of a hopefully very long story.

(As told by Macy Jenks, Founding Youth Member)
girls hold up ARC name tags

Youth For The Voiceless is a youth-led organization, spearheaded by high schoolers from around Portland. It began back in 2014 when Claire Howe, a humane educator with the organization HEART, came to two high schools, Cleveland and Franklin, with the goal of starting an animal advocacy club. That year, the clubs evolved into a place where students could educate each other on animal rights issues. The Cleveland High School club members fundraised in early 2016 and were able to attend the Animal Rights Conference in LA that summer. While attending, students were shocked by the lack of youth representation. These students then decided these clubs should turn into a nationwide effort to get youth involved in animal rights.

(As told by Ruby Boyer, Founding Youth Member)
youth for the voiceless member with rescue cow at lighthouse sanctuary

It was freshman year, and as I wandered around the Franklin High School club fair, I looked for something that peaked my interest, something I could get involved in. I signed up for a few clubs that day, but the only one I stuck with all four years and that has been the most impactful for me was the Animal Rights Club. I had no idea when I joined that this club would evolve over the years into the nonprofit organization, Youth for the Voiceless. When our club began working with the Cleveland High School animal rights club and getting more involved in advocacy together, it became evident that youth were often overlooked in the animal rights movement. It felt like there wasn’t really a place for us, and we wanted to create that sense of community.

We knew what our goals were; create a youth voice in the animal rights movement. But how were we going to do that? Was that even an achievable goal? Could we even make a difference? As youth, we’ve been told time and time again by adults that we’ll make great activists in the future. But why can’t we be great activists now? As we discussed our ideas, the direction we wanted to take, and voted on names and logos, our common goals began to manifest. We realized how big this could be.

If you had told me freshman year, at age fourteen, that by senior year I would have helped found a nonprofit organization, I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t think I was capable of making a difference. Being a part of this has made me realize that I can make a difference and has given me a purpose. As graduation gets closer and I realize my time with Youth for the Voiceless is limited, it’s bittersweet. I know I want to stay as involved as I can and hope that we can inspire other youth to make a difference. With all we’ve accomplished in such a short amount of time, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Youth for the Voiceless.