From the Field: Adding Youth Voice to Our Work
By: Lauren Higbee, Youth Development Director, Youth Services in Brattleboro
Youth Services has maintained a strong peer outreach program for several years now. Our Peer Outreach Workers (POWs) were key players carrying out the former street outreach program. As an agency, we saw great importance in their roles in fostering connections with youth and managed to hold onto their positions as programs and funding changed.
We currently support three youth peer outreach workers, two of which are former transitional living program (TLP) clients. They work across TLP, BCP, and Youth In Transition (YIT) programs, connecting with youth at different ages and stages in their lives. Their work has transformed the youth community’s perception of our programs and agency. Within the last year, the majority of our referrals have been self-referrals from the youth directly or friends of friends of friends. At one scheduled intake, a youth actually brought two of their friends to connect with services. This awesome development and trust in our programs can be directly linked to the work of the POWs.
When given the power and control, our POWs took over the planning, scheduling, and organizing of our weekly Tuesday Night Live activity and dinner. They managed the money to buy supplies, coordinated speakers and classes, set up and cleaned up each night. The POWs took surveys of youth participants about what activities they wanted to do, what they wanted to learn about, and organized accordingly.
Hearing youth voices and empowering youth leadership and decision-making are central to the work we are doing at Youth Services. We’ve taken what we have learned from the POWs and are translating that to an agency-wide Youth Advisory Board. We have begun recruiting youth from our TLP, BCP, YIT, YDP and Justice Programs to participate and run a Youth Advisory Board. The function of this group will be to inform Youth Services’ work and practice at all levels. One of the most exciting aspects will be their influence on enhancing our workforce development projects, culminating with a youth-led business. It also leads to humorous and awesome flyers like the one below!