Letting Youth Voices Drive the Experience
March 12, 2021
At the beginning of the pandemic, our Girls and Youth team realized we were embarking on new territory as far as the challenges young people were experiencing and the best ways to serve and support them during this time. In this blog post, Girls and Youth Director Katie Rehani discusses how they responded with a data-centered approach.
Youth workers are adaptable by nature. The work centers youth voice and choice, meaning that within the general program framework, things shift to meet the needs and interests of participants. This adaptability was tested as the pandemic forced us out of schools and community spaces, and to explore a new world of remote connection. Girls and Youth staff stepped into immediate action as they researched and developed new program ideas, ensuring a continuation of programming and connection.
Changing a Critical Component: Program Evaluation
Another component of the work that required adaptability was our program evaluation. Data and evaluation are critical components of youth work as the information helps guide change and direction, highlights outcomes and impact, and can tell the general story of a program. In this atypical year, it was difficult to know where to begin, especially as the work was happening rapidly and was ever-changing.
Within the Girls and Youth team, we put together a small team to take on the task of shifting our evaluation methods. We wanted to keep things simple and focus on general well-being. Using surveys and conversations with youth, we learned that youth are generally feeling bored, overwhelmed and confused. However, along with all of that, youth resoundingly reported feeling happy.
Polling Youth About Their Emotions
That led us to wonder: in what parts of life are youth feeling these emotions? The evaluation team developed a poll asking youth to identify their general feelings related to various categories. Across the board, youth responded with strong feelings of happiness related to their feelings about their self, family and friends. It was school, COVID-19, and safety in the community that returned responses of fear, anger and sadness.
Offering Virtual Yoga, Cooking Sessions and Activity Kits in Response
All of this information is now being used to shape our programs. To combat boredom, Girls and Youth staff will lead virtual yoga, art and cooking sessions over spring break. Activity kits will be sent home to youth include journals, art supplies, stress reliever activities and personal care items. Over the coming months, we will work to provide youth intentional healing spaces. We are currently developing a summer art project to give youth an outlet to express and process their emotions.
This past year has been far from predictable, and yet the Girls and Youth team has successfully been able to support youth and their families by continuing to center youth voices, and letting that drive the experience.