Choosing Your Purpose
There are a variety of youth support and advocacy networks, although each group is different. Some options include:
- peer-to-peer mentoring
- traditional mentoring
- life-skills training
Anyone who wants to start or enhance a youth network needs to decide what type of group is right for them and their community. The first is deciding what your goal is.
- Are there issues important enough that you would start or join a group to change them?
- Do you want a peer mentor?
- Do you have something to say, do, or contribute?
- Are you looking for a social network?
- Do you have interests or talents to elevate?
- Do you have the time and energy to commit?
- Are there system, policy, or program issues that you believe youth can help address?
- Are there youth you work who would work with you and is it something they believe in?
- Do you have the energy and personality to work as a colleague with youth?
If possible it’s best to come together with other youth to brainstorm your primary purpose and get started. As we all know, it can be hard to go it alone.
Deciding What Activities You Might Offer
After you know your purpose, you can begin to think about the types of services or activities your group might offer. Options include:
- training and preparation of other youth for advocacy or mentoring
- public speaking, creative expression
- social connections
- research and response to key issues
- product development
- special events
- conferences and trainings
- for parents, workers, judges, teachers, therapists, doctors, etc.
- can be national or local; self-initiated or planned by others
- art show or play
- community service activities
- intergenerational housing
- holiday party
- adoption events
- social events
- weekend retreat
- potluck dinners
- beach parties
- amusement park visits
- legislative advocacy activities
- National Adoption Month campaign
- op-eds or commentaries in the paper
- statehouse or parliament event
- directed testimony
- visits and letters on specific bills
- bill of rights
Depending on your group, it can be very helpful to identify and work with adult supporters, whether it’s a local support group, adoption or foster care agency staff, or youth service organization staff. Aligning with an organization can provide structure, stability, and can help ensure that your group survives and thrives. Adult supports also offer:
- physical and psychological safety
- appropriate structure
- supportive relationships
- role modeling
- opportunities to belong: inclusion and identity
As you build support with ourside organizations and adults, it’s critical to decide what role youth will play. Will they be leaders? Supporters? Participants? Review the Ladder of Youth Engagement to consider these various roles. (The ladder is adapted from the work of The Freechild Project.)
Finding Young People to Participate
Once you have some ideas about your goals, it’s time to find other young people to join your work. Great places to do outreach include:
- youth and young adults you know
- Facebook groups for adoptees or young people who’ve experienced care
- Facebook groups for adoptive or foster parents
- adolescent units, independent living programs
- youth and parent support groups
- post-adoption centers
- residential treatment centers and hospitals
- adoption and foster care agencies
Keep in mind as you do outreach that youth support networks shouldn’t be:
- exclusive or “cream of the crop”
- rigid about membership
- using youth speakers to promote adults’ agendas
Planning Your First Meeting
Once you’ve gotten some others excited about your idea, you need to have a meeting. Consider the where, when, what?
- location for meetings must be inviting, non-threatening to youth
- transportation and/or accessibility are factors — Check to see if your adult supporters can help with them.
- meetings must be both enjoyable and purposeful — Have an agenda and a plan for each meeting but build in time for socializing and fun
- host organization could and should provide resources
- consider a mix of social, networking, mentoring, training, creative, and skill-building activities
- determine how often and how regularly you are able and willing to meet
Early meetings are likely to be spent getting to know each other, refining your goals, and making plans. Be sure to check in with each other at the end of each meeting to be sure you’re all still committed and connected in your goals and mission. Don’t be afraid to make changes as needed to accommodate the group.