Written by: Diana Hembree

Since many teens are exposed to unhealthy influences – including dating  violence – that put them at risk, organizations that serve youth are trying to amplify positive experiences in childhood and adolescence (PCEs) to help prevent, heal and even reverse the impact of early adversity. CCI’s new program, Amplify Healing Connections, uses a health equity lens to promote health and well-being for both youth and their caregivers by strengthening healthcare systems and community-based organizations that provide services to them in their neighborhood.

At a recent convening, the Amplify teams met with CCI to reflect on what they had learned about community partnerships and the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. The successes they recounted included removing barriers for undocumented youth and families, best practices for referring clients between agencies while encouraging and bringing renewed energy to both parties. Among the takeaways they shared:

1. Be sensitive to the youth and domestic violence survivors on your team

. “We have two youth leaders on our project team, and that’s a shift because I’m used to being in meeting with adults,” said Bay Area social impact consultant Alison Guevara. “We’re learning how to approach conversations and facilitate in a way that’s really tapping into youth expertise and energy. We also have domestic violence survivors on our team, so that is bringing me more awareness about understanding that every time we talk, the conversation could potentially bring up that trauma.” What they’re working on, she said, “is how we are going to move through this as a team that really builds strength and a healing space.”

2. Be flexible, especially during a pandemic

Bre Gentile of the Center for Youth Wellness said her programs involves a range of youth, from popular kids who everyone knows “because they’re always causing trouble” to kids who have few friends and get caught under the radar. During the pandemic, some of the kids who were already withdrawn became even more anti-social, she said, so the project team looked for ways to coax them out of their shells. “To get them out of their comfort zones, we brought more virtual games into the sessions,” said Gentile. “We did our best to be engaging while still doing what we think is important and meeting the kids where they’re at.”

3. Give the kids a voice

Panelist Kisai Henriquez of Huckleberry Youth Programs helps lead a kids’ group at 8 am at the students’ school before the COVID-19 pandemic. The students were hungry, “so of course, we fed them, and of course we didn’t give them anything they wanted,” Kisai said with a laugh. “Cause some of them eat ice cream for breakfast, and we weren’t doing that. So there were some non-negotiables, but the group settled on bagels. Not just any bagels, either, but bagels with a specific kind of cream cheese. And toasted. “They said, ‘Don’t come here with dry bagels that we can’t heat up.’ And fine, we can give them that particular cream cheese and a toaster [laughter]. It’s those little things that make a difference. It’s what you would do for your friends and family.”

4. Community members are experts on their own needs

“You know, we only work with families a certain amount of time during the week – maybe an hour, and they’ve got 167 hours to go,” said Henriquez of Huckleberry. “So the families know what’s best. Any age group, we’re experts of our own needs and wants and desires — even when we’re not used to being asked. We really trust our kids and families to be the experts of what works for them.” Huckleberry Youth Health Center is also creating a youth advisory board “because having those young voices, those intergenerational voices, is very potent.”

5. Encourage youth peer support

Kisai’s program, Project Ready, started a summer program whose workshops included peer-to-peer talks featuring high school students talking with younger students about their journey. “That idea actually came from the [kids] saying they wanted more youth input, such as what happens with the kids when they go to high school,” said Kisai. A CCI facilitator agreed. “That is awesome – I know it was essential for me growing up, having the cool kids to look up to. Because they’re in your community, you see them on the street, and there’s a level of accountability – the idea that somebody’s listening, somebody values you and what you bring.”

6. Find out how volunteers would like to be supported

Many low-income volunteers are giving up time and money to attend meetings and events, so it’s good to offer a stipend for their services. Gentile noted that Center for Youth Wellness did a poll of volunteers to find out whether they preferred gift cards or a check – and was surprised by the answer. “All of them asked for a check because they said it really made them feel like they were working as part of CYW,” she said. “There was something more tangible about it. For some of them, getting a check is a really, really big deal. I don’t know if that matters for most volunteers, but it did to them. It was really interesting for us to find that out.”



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