Community support can enhance youth engagement work. Members of the community bring a variety of skills, relationships, and experiences to the table that help cultivate youth engagement in health centers. Communities benefit by improving quality of life, coordinating youth services, and embracing diversity by representing young people.1
“Healthy communities are those that, in part, view young people as partners rather than clients, and involve them in positions where their contributions make a difference.”
-ACT for Youth
In addition to training youth in programs, community engagement can elevate youth work more broadly. Collaborative efforts with the community can raise awareness of youth participation as a key aspect of positive youth development, as well as raise awareness about the specific health issues the youth program is tackling. Engaging a diverse circle of stakeholders is important in cultivating community support.2
Adults can focus on broadening connections with multiple local networks. When working with youth, the best results can sometimes come from working in partnerships. For example, in an SBHC setting, partnering with school counselors and/or the disciplinary offices can allow the SBHC to reach youth that could benefit from youth-led initiatives. This is also true in community health settings; collaborating with local schools or fellow community centers that work with youth can foster a bridge of support.
Research suggests that the culture, structure, and programming of organizations and schools may be strengthened when youth and adults work together as partners.3 Adults are motivated by the experience of working with youth in collective decision-making and action. When health centers change the policies and programs to accommodate meaningful youth participation, adults report improvements in the quality of the health center.3 There is also evidence that youth engagement helps adults gain more accurate and less stereotypical impressions of youth, and makes adults more likely to engage youth in the future. Youth engagement impacts community agendas by raising public awareness of youth issues and concerns. Finally, youth engagement has been found to impact public policies and practices in ways that enhance quality of life for youth, schools, and communities.3
Principles of Cultivating Community Support
- Conduct a community assessment and generate a list of potential supporters.
- Identify community members with specific child and adolescent health content expertise who can train youth.
- Consider engaging people in influential roles like school board members, heads of neighborhood associations, faith leaders, and business leaders who can be supportive allies.
- Develop a strategy for engaging community members.
- Establish clear communication between the community and health center.
- Host community events to highlight great youth engagement work.
- Create a calendar of events to distribute to community members to keep them abreast of upcoming activities.
- ACT for Youth. What is Youth Engagement, Really? Available at: http://www.actforyouth.net/youth_development/engagement/. Accessed July 2015.
- ACT for Youth. Community Collaboration. Available at: http://www.actforyouth.net/youth_development/communities/collaboration.cfm. Accessed July 2015.
- 4-H. Youth-Adult Partnerships in Community Decision Making. Available at: http://4h.ucanr.edu/files/2427.pdf. Accessed July 2015.