It is appropriate and productive to include youth in healthy community change initiatives. Youth involvement in partnerships is an important part of ensuring that those impacted by decisions are engaged in shaping them. Young people have a direct and even disproportionate stake in many preventable health challenges. Especially on issues that affect them, youth can serve as an integral resource for reaching more deeply into their communities and bringing fresh perspectives and approaches to the work. Like their historical counterparts in other social movements, many young people are exploring issues of social justice, experimenting with their own principles and political ideas and are highly motivated toward action. Feeling empowered in their relationships with adults and with leaders and organizations around them helps youth thrive and contribute to the community in the future.
Young people can have positive effects on adults, organizations and communities. Youth can profoundly influence adults with their fresh perspectives, voices and culture. From parents in the home to professionals at work and elected officials in city hall, people pay attention when informed, prepared youth speak about community issues and how they are affected. This better equips adults to be facilitative leaders and provides an important alternative perspective that can influence outcomes. Youth can provide quality assessments (audits and surveys), communications support (video and social media) and effective advocacy (advisory committees and public meetings). They can also reinvigorate partnerships and committees by supplying higher levels of interaction, creativity, action orientation and fun.
When well supported to participate in meaningful community change, young people develop skills, critical awareness and an ethic of community contribution. Involving youth offers them opportunities to develop an array of skills and become problem solvers and decision makers. It also provides a platform for affirmation, achievement and confidence building. Through the advocacy process, they can gain the information and resources necessary to analyze issues that affect their lives, environments and communities. They learn how to effectively make decisions, positively interact with their peers, manage resources, strategize on ways to make change and act as community advocates. As they assert themselves, they learn about community dynamics, power, citizenship and themselves.
Adult partners should be intentional and committed to providing quality, youth-centered empowerment. Youth need consistent support to thrive as health advocates, yet many adults are unprepared or are not committed to offer it. Serving youth is not the same as engaging youth. Many communities have organizations and/or professionals with experience in youth empowerment—not just service delivery. They offer training in areas such as public speaking, media literacy, community assessment, gathering community support, working with policy makers, issue education and logistical support. In order to provide regular and active support throughout the community-change process, these professionals need resources. Another part of supporting youth involvement is supplying a venue for them to convene with each other and ensuring both youth and adults are well prepared when youth integrate with ongoing adult work groups.
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