Leadership Redefined: United for Youth's Pursuit of Inclusive Governance


Since the beginning, United for Youth has been structured to be a community-led movement supported by United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. From early efforts to establish its purpose and name to crafting a Bold Community Goal and establishing shared measurement practices, community partners have been at the table making critical decisions. 

But being at the table and owning leadership are two different things. To ensure that we continue to nurture equity-centered leadership in this work, we’ve begun what we’re affectionately calling “United for Youth Leadership Team 2.0”


The process of deciding what U4Y Leadership looks like, where these leaders come from, and how accountabilities will be distributed is something that the design team, a group of 8 dedicated community members, professional researchers, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe staff, and city and county administrators, has been researching. Their research was robust, conducting more than 60 interviews with local community members as well as conversations with six collective impact initiatives from across the nation. 

Then in December 2023, more than 70 individuals, including local students, Asheville City and Buncombe County school administrators and staff, and leaders from local non-profits and grassroots organizations, joined together to dig even deeper into the questions the design team has been researching and what equity-centered leadership of United for Youth should look like.

The combination of national and community research as well as the retreat conversations have established a new foundation for United for Youth’s Leadership Team: a cross-sector team that will serve as the governing body of United for Youth, helping to set the strategy, priorities, and focus of the network.


Two Design Team Member Perspectives

We spoke directly to some of the design team members, Velene Fagan and Langley Ellmann about their insights on the process and what they have learned themselves through this process about community leadership. Langley Ellmann interviewed several collective impact organizations across the nation. From organizations similar in size and mission to UWABC and others that have deep knowledge of collective impact strategies in action.

 “One big thing that I think is relevant to Asheville and Buncombe County,” said Ellmann, “Some of these organizations are huge and so others are more our size but regardless of their size the thing that had to be agreed upon is that these are all our children. No matter how you engage with youth and even those students who aren't interacting with my organization, there is that level of commitment.”



That commitment is something that the new leadership team, by design, will be responsible for bringing out of every partner within United for Youth, especially from the members of the Leadership Team. In addition to a commitment to youth, the interviews, and the two days of hyper-local community discussion, a strong theme of diversity and representation arose. As Ellmann explained, “A big conversation and United for Youth is trying to think about this carefully and well is diversity and representation and youth voice and it’s a conversation to constantly keep at the forefront. Although it is harder and more time-consuming - we are trying to be diligent.”

The retreat participants identified a need for a diverse composition of the Leadership Team, including required seats for key partners in the community who have a direct relationship with our students, like the school systems; three seats dedicated to the Youth Leadership team that is currently in development; and eight seats open for community members with broad intersections of identities and experience named as priorities:

  • Business Community
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Faith-Based Groups
  • Families & Parents
  • Grassroots Organizations
  • Higher Education
  • Interested & Supportive Community Leaders
  • Juvenile Justice System
  • Language Justice Groups
  • Literacy Education
  • Public Housing 
  • Racial Justice Advocates
  • Trans & Queer Advocates/Organizations
  • Workforce Development & Career Readiness
  • Youth Self-Care & Liberatory Practices

In addition to areas of experience or focus, retreat participants also identified the characteristics of a leadership team member, which helped inform the ‘job description’ for this new team. Velene Fagan, a deeply committed community member and someone who has been a vocal advocate for students for several years shared some qualities of leadership that stand out to her. 

“I would like to see someone who has passion, who is open, focused, aware, and a person with discernment. A person who will stand on their values and respect others” said long-time advocate and parent, Velene Fagan. 




Discernment, the ability to judge well, was a value that Velene stressed as important in the leaders of the United for Youth network. Ellmann also shared a quality she repeatedly heard mentioned which is, “an ability to try and desire to try coupled with the ability to encourage folks dreams.” Among both Ellmann and Fagan there was one aspect of this leadership they both stressed. “They don’t need formal training,” said Fagan “but rather the ability to hold yourself and others accountable.” Ellmann expressed the sentiment by wanting to tell all community members who see their voice on the U4Y Leadership Team, “you are you and we value that and you have so much to offer.”

United For Youth’s Leadership Team is now in the initial stages of the applications and nominations process. We invite our community to get involved in this growing network. Below we have the amazing opportunity to submit your name, or the name of an individual, to apply to serve as a United for Youth leader.


Get Involved 


Click here to nominate yourself or an individual 

Follow United for Youth on Facebook