5 Ways to Engage Youth as Leaders in Service

Posted on December 28, 2011. Filed under: Good Ideas Stick, Tips for HandsOn Partners | Tags: |

From the HandsOn Network

Whether you’re planning a small service project in your community, or creating a youth council for young leaders, follow these simple steps to empower youth in your next project!

1.  Establish Roles

By establishing distinct roles for youth, you will be able to provide the kind of structure that will allow young leaders to flourish while also being better equipped to address challenges as they arise. Consider: Will youth be in a supporting role or will their participation be integral to the planning and implementation of the project? Will the youth be working alongside other youth or with other adults? Remember, youth can provide more than just input on an existing project, they can be the drivers of the work itself. Creating meaningful roles will generate buy-in.

2. Share the Power

When determining roles, consider ways of sharing responsibility, and giving youth leaders decision-making tasks to keep them invested in the project. Think about how much freedom, flexibility, and responsibility you’re confident handing off, and consider ways in which you’ll offer that responsibility. Will you assign a specific task to your youth leaders? Or will you allow your youth leaders the chance to create or decide on their own tasks and responsibilities? By giving youth a say in their own roles, they’ll have ownership and responsibility – both of which will also keep everyone on task and committed to the project. Double the win!

3. Be Relatable

While a quick quip about Blanche from The Golden Girls might provoke a laugh from your adult leaders, will your youth agree? Think about shows, music, sports, extracurriculars, and current events that will spark the greatest interest in your young leaders. Consider hosting a survey to gauge interests. Then, you can tweak your programming and focus accordingly. Or, better yet, as was suggested above, you can let your youth leaders tweak the agendas themselves.

4. Provide Support

With a sturdy foundation of support, youth can become vested with the confidence that brings them from a bystander to active catalyst. Decide how you will offer your guidance and support to youth leaders. Will there be opportunities for open brainstorming and planning? Will you provide a tool to structure the thought process such as a graphic organizer? (I’m partial to the generationOn Do Your Own Thing Guide.) When and how will you check-in with youth leaders, and with what frequency?

5.  Recognize and Reflect

Make your project even more meaningful to youth volunteers by recognizing their efforts and reflecting on their progress and achievements, as well as any challenges or road blocks they may have encountered. You’ll want to decide how you’ll help generate reflective thought – will you create a list of questions, or would you rather have a more organic conversation? Will everyone sit together in a circle? Will you read a quote or offer a related statistic to spark conversation and reflection?


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