By Taryn Walker, Stoke Youth Network
A lot of adults have been asking the same question lately: “How do we engage youth?” It’s like we are a mysterious species and you are looking for the correct type of bait to lure us into a trap. But being fellow human beings, we out-smarted the ‘free pizza’ trick long ago. There is no simple strategy to get youth to become engaged. Given enough food and water, in a few years we will grow to be adults, and like adults, we generally do what we are passionate about.
My first step down the road of becoming an ‘engaged youth’ started in 2010, when I was accepted as a volunteer on to the Columbia Basin Trust’s (CBT) Youth Advisory Committee. The CBT Youth Advisory Committee is a group of 12 youth aged 15–29 who meet every two months. The committee adjudicates the Youth Grants Program for CBT as well as provides advice to CBT on many different issues in the Columbia Basin. The Youth Advisory Committee has provided me with some extraordinary networking and learning opportunities that have proven to be extremely useful in other aspects of my life. Being on the committee has given me the chance to learn about major issues in the region, give input on youth related topics and help to make other opportunities for youth a reality. In my eyes, these benefits are worth far more than any sum of cash.
This brings me back the original question: “How do we engage youth?” In order for youth to want to volunteer and become engaged they need to feel like what they are doing is meaningful and valued. This is a major component in any volunteer work that I do.
Last spring as a part of a volunteer group of youth, I helped create the Stoke Youth Network. The purpose of the Stoke Youth Network is to link the youth of Revelstoke to the opportunities our community has to offer and beyond, as well as offering support and resources for youth ideas and projects. We have just recently released a Youth Survival Guide and launched our new website, www.stokeyouthnetwork.ca. I am currently sitting on the Stoke Youth Network Executive Committee, which advises the Network and I’m also part of the Stoke Youth Network Media Team. By being part of the Network, I’ve had many different opportunities to volunteer at events, and meet new people in our community. The Stoke Youth Network has also given me the chance to build on my skills as a photographer, which has been wonderful since photography is something I’m really passionate about. I love being involved with the Stoke Youth Network because I’m passionate about what it stands for and I’m exited about its projects and future goals. This is the main reason I continue to volunteer for the network.
When looking at youth engagement overall, if youth aren’t passionate or excited about the program or project being targeted at them, it probably won’t go over well. This is why I am such a fan of ‘for youth, by youth’ projects, which the Stoke Youth Network is a great example of.
So what is the answer to ‘the mystery of youth engagement?’ The answer is: (ideally) ‘for youth, by youth’ projects and opportunities that are meaningful, valued and give youth something to be excited and passionate about. This will not only give youth a reason to volunteer but help create an environment where youth will want to volunteer.