What would it look like to have true youth engagement in your community? How would your community be different if more youth were taking on leadership roles?
Looking at community projects through the lens of fostering youth leadership is a good place to start. Communities will be stronger both through the completed project and new leadership capacity of youth involvement. With that in mind, here are a few strategies I’ve seen work well in engaging youth in community work:
–Foster a shared vision. Projects that create space for youth to build upon increase engagement. Youth see that their participation and ideas are valued when the vision is co-created.
–Create clear roles. What is the specific role you’re asking youth to play? Who are the decision makers? What level of ownership do youth have over this project? What is expected of participants, and by when? Make it clear from the start so everyone’s on the same page.
–Keep it real. If a project is bringing in youth to make it “look good,” it will come off as insincere. It could also lead to decreased youth engagement in the future. Youth, like adults, want to be a part of something meaningful. No one wants to be a token.
–Let youth take the lead. Try asking youth what they might envision doing in the community. Consider what ways you might help support them to achieve their self-driven goal.
–Have trust and release some control. Youth are going to tackle projects in different ways than adults will. Allowing youth the opportunity to experiment helps them grow and build their local leadership capacity. It also helps adults learn to work better with those who have different ideas or work styles.
–Work with youth schedules. Youth are often very busy with school, extracurricular activities, and work. Consider ways in which youth can be at the table for community and project meetings. That may mean scheduling on a day and time when youth can participate, or moving the location of the meeting to be at school.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it will provide a good start to youth engagement work. Try out some of these strategies, observe what happens, and learn from the results for your next project.
While you’re at it, remember to ask youth for their feedback. Their ideas will help build new and better ways for youth to be engaged in your community.