Youth Strategies: First Steps

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“Youth! The 26% Solution.


OPTION 1 – Times are changing. More adults are growing comfortable with the idea of working with youth as partners. They realize the value of your input and want to channel your energy and benefit from your willingness to contribute. An increasing number of community-based agencies and organizations are including youth, even on their boards of directors. Some may even have a staff person whose main job is to recruit students to work with them.

To get involved, all you have to do is let a group know you’re interested. A well-established organization can mean more resources, opportunities, and allies. Adults can often “open doors” because they have personal contacts with politicians and other community leaders. One potential drawback, however, is that adults may outnumber the students, and you may be expected to do what they want. An organization’s goals and rules may limit the range of activities and actions you can pursue.

OPTION 2 – Explore is whether a club at your school or the student council/government is already involved with some of the same issues you are concerned about. If not, find out about the goals of some of the organizations in your community. By doing so, you’ll probably discover several groups that are active and want to cooperate. Take the time to learn about the group and what it is trying to accomplish. See if its members are interested in what you are trying to do and want to work with you.

If the group already is well-known and has community support, it can provide a major headstart for your campaign. Also, there is strength in numbers. As a warning though, it can be a real challenge when joining with another organization to reach agreement on what should be done. You may disagree about what is needed to solve a problem or how best to approach a situation. Be on the lookout for other leaders who might have strong egos or who do not share the same goals or values.

OPTION 3 – This approach gives you the freedom to pursue your vision of how to make a difference without having a group of adults or a national organization calling the shots. Even though an independent student-run group may stand out because of its uniqueness, one disadvantage is that you will have to work harder in order to be taken seriously and win recognition. There’s fun and also challenge in figuring out everything on your own — with the help of other concerned youth, of course.

The more you publicize, the more other young people and adults will take notice and want to get involved. Ideally, you will want to attract a lot of attention, but try to keep your team small and diverse. You will also want to keep things manageable, so watch out for things like:

It is easiest to work with a core group numbering between five and fifteen.

Try to broaden your group to include people from various ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds.

People who have different strengths and skills can help build and maintain momentum.

Decide whether you will function as a team of co-chairs and committees or if you need to create a hierarchical structure with elected officers. Adults can still play an important role as allies, without stealing your thunder or controlling what happens.

As you think more about what you’d like to do, you may find established groups pursuing the same or similar cause. Joining a team or building your own can be a major decision, and there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages of each that you should investigate before you decide.

Once you have your team, make it official. Create a name for your group or project. Make it easy to remember, understandable and catchy. Avoid abbreviations, for example, our international campaign called SCHOOL GIRLS UNITE is not shortened to SGU.


Social media provide instantaneous publicity. Every day there are new tools beyond Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. Online petitions such as provide additional opportunities to state your position, mobilize others, and a surge in numbers can create a snowball effort.

Also publicize your efforts beyond your own school audience (student newspaper, school radio station or television news program, etc.) in order to reach key community leaders and decision-makers. Besides sending out an eye-catching news release or staging some event, participate in radio talk shows either as a caller or as a guest.

Reporters and decision-makers often tune out when they hear the same statistics and familiar slogans like “Just Say No” over and over again. A fresh, hard-hitting message can capture their attention and make them remember you and your campaign. This 20-second “sound bite” has a good chance of getting broadcast on the evening news or being the quote that appears in newspaper articles.

A news release, often called a press release or news advisory, is simply a one- or two-page statement that describes an event or makes an announcement. It’s usually sent by snail mail, e-mail, or fax to individual news media outlets and community leaders to increase interest in an issue or to request their attendance at a news conference, rally or some other activity.