Lead the Way: Young People as “Partners,” Not “Clients”

This story comes from the Alliance’s youth engagement toolkit Lead the Way: Engaging Youth in Health Care. Each month, a new reflection from the field will touch on a different component of youth engagement and show how youth are leading the way in health awareness and promotion.

The Corazón Community Services (CCS) and the Health Committee of the Cicero Youth Task Force are improving the health of their communities by embracing young people as partners, rather than clients, through the Health Ambassador Program in Cicero, IL. This program trains youth and adults to be peer leaders and advocates for a healthier community. Youth engagement efforts in school-based health centers (SBHCs) are strengthened when young people are welcomed at the table alongside community members.1 Collaborative efforts like the Health Ambassador Program highlight youth participation as a key aspect of positive youth development.2

(To learn more about the importance of community partnerships in youth development, view the Cultivating Community Support section of our toolkit!)

Student members of the Health Ambassador Program, 2015

Student members of the Health Ambassador Program, 2015

The Health Ambassador Program accepts students in grades 6-12 and pays them a stipend for their time. They receive in-depth, comprehensive education on prevalent adolescent health concerns, trainings on community health advocacy, and peer-to-peer education.

These ambassadors then work alongside adult coordinators to improve health outcomes via community canvassing, public service announcements, social media campaigns, news articles, town hall meetings, testing opportunities, and survey research. This collaborative program has inspired several local SBHCs to join community advocacy mobilizations. For example, the Health Ambassadors worked with the CCS and Morton East High School SBHC in the nationwide Get Yourself Tested (GYT) campaign. Thanks to their efforts, 117 young people were tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia, 13 percent of whom received treatment.

Research suggests that the culture, structure, and programming of organizations and schools is strengthened when youth and adults work together as partners.3 Initiatives like the Health Ambassador Program cultivate principles of strong community support by connecting adolescents to people in influential roles—like heads of neighborhood associations, faith leaders, and business leaders—who can serve as supportive allies. When youth and adults work in partnership, it positively affects public policies and practices in ways that enhance the quality of life for youth, schools, and communities.

Eleni Vrettos of Corazón Community Services/Fuerza Youth Center, shares her experience as a former Health Ambassador with the program: “As a Health Ambassador, you really are able to bring your ideas forward and create new programs that benefit a healthy community. And a healthy community is a happy community.”

To learn more about engaging youth in YOUR health center, we encourage you to explore our toolkit Lead the Way: Engaging Youth in Health Care and share your comments and stories below!

Youth Engagement Toolkit
(1) ACT for Youth. What is Youth Engagement, Really? Available at: http://www.actforyouth.net/youth_development/engagement/. Accessed July 2015.
(2) ACT for Youth. Community Collaboration. Available at: http://www.actforyouth.net/youth_development/communities/collaboration.cfm. Accessed July 2015.
(3) 4-H. Youth-Adult Partnerships in Community Decision Making. Available at: http://4h.ucanr.edu/files/2427.pdf. Accessed July 2015.

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