20 Under 40: Martin Rafferty

Chief Executive Officer, Youth ERA

Age: 32

“Martin and his team of innovators at Youth ERA are rewriting the playbook when it comes to addressing trauma, understanding the needs of emerging adults and moving forward with cutting-edge technology to reach youth in ways that most national mental health advocacy leaders haven’t even begun to grasp.”

Scott Bryant-Comstock, Children’s Mental Health Network


Martin Rafferty founded Youth ERA, a nonprofit that provides training on youth mental health, advocacy and engagement to organizations in 39 states. Initiatives include development of an emergency response process after school shootings, social media peer support services, using staff to look for online risky behaviors to offer immediate mental health support, an online suicide prevention campaign, and integrating virtual reality into Youth ERA programs for teens who are experiencing mental health symptoms or who’ve endured trauma. He serves in advisory roles for other children’s mental health and youth organizations.

Get to know them

Q: What have you been most motivated by in your career?

This answer is easy; it’s the youth I’ve gotten to meet and work with. Throughout my career, I have had the honor of getting to know and help guide a tremendous group of inspiring youth and young adults. I find motivation in their strength and personal determination but also in their steadfast commitment to change. Every year I grow more invigorated as a new group of young people starts to find their voices and engage in their communities. They motivate and encourage me to stay committed to the fight and determined to create a better future for young people across the country.


Q: What do you hope to see for our community?

Eugene is special. It is one of those few towns in the country that has this kind of raw potential, to become one of this country’s most influential cities. I hope that as a community we can realize that potential and reach it together. That would take risks, it would take some uncomfortable choices. We would have to agree as a community, that strength includes taking care of our weakest with pride and not charity.

I also hope that our community will continue to amplify the young voices that are so often forgotten and truly listen to what they have to say. Young people are some of the most incredible assets we have. They are passionate and eager to create a better future. Let us not stifle their potential by shutting the door on their ideas and telling them there’s no more room at the table. Let’s make a bigger table.


Q: What advice do you have for those people out there who want to step up and help lead our community?

In the past few years, people have been feeling helpless both locally and nationally and several asked me what they could do. I encourage people to pay attention to that feeling of hopelessness and use it to take massive action. For some of us that could be starting an organization for others, it could be writing a letter to the editor of a local newsletter. The end result will always lead you to the next action. Some people say that we are the sum of our wins and losses but I think it’s a little more complicated than that.

We are the sum of our responses to our wins and losses. From musicians to sports teams, we have examples of one-hit wonders to multi-platinum discographies. Those who continue to win did so by examining where they went wrong after every win AND loss.

But to lead you first have to pay attention to that little voice. It somehow already knows what problem you are equipped to solve.