Thursday, October 16, 2008

Involving Youth in Vaccine Education Programs

Involving Youth in Vaccine Education Programs—How to Motivate and Reward Young Volunteers.

Many coalitions seek to improve youth vaccination rates, but how often do we include young people in our program planning and outreach efforts? Coalitions can benefit by tapping into the creativity and enthusiasm of pre-teens and adolescents. Successful youth partnerships stem from respecting their developmental needs while listening to their unique insights. The following tips, adapted from the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension program, suggest ways to manage these valuable partnerships.

Decide if youth involvement makes sense for your coalition.
Before engaging youth, ask yourself a few key questions. How could youth partnerships help meet your coalition’s goals? Does your coalition have the capacity to recruit, train, and mentor young people? What role will they have in planning and operations? Knowing when and why to engage youth lays the foundation for a successful partnership.

Provide effective incentives.
Consider what will attract youth to working with your coalition. Can you offer professional experience, school credit, leadership opportunities, or the chance to socialize with peers? Incentives will help attract students, but having a positive experience is what will keep them engaged.

Offer leadership responsibilities and training to succeed.
Bolster youth’s commitment to your organization by empowering them to make decisions. Provide practice and training to help young people feel confident in this role. Support is critical, because without it they may experience confusion and frustration as they tackle new responsibilities.

Listen to young people’s ideas.
A young person’s perspective may be very different from an adult member of your organization. Be open to their ideas, even if they seem unconventional. Many innovative youth campaigns succeed because students help shape the direction and tone of the initiative.

Be careful about interrupting.
For the partnership to work, young people must feel that they are valued and respected. When interrupted by an adult, they will tend to stop talking (sometimes permanently). Increase confidence by allowing them to finish their ideas.

Provide feedback.
Have high expectations of your youth membership and provide a real assessment of their current abilities. Never sell them short or make excuses because of their age.

Be willing to make mistakes.
Putting youth’s ideas into practice may bring mixed results. Consider it a learning process for your entire organization. Stay positive and continue to support their involvement.

Don’t move too fast.
Remember that this is all new for the young people. Don’t move too fast without explaining the reasons for actions taken. Rushing through meetings can be a sign that adults are still trying to control the actions of the group.

Celebrate success!
Honor both small and large achievements. Let students know you value their contribution through frequent and sincere recognition.

Source: University of Illinois Extension Program.

How has your Coalition involved youth in your programs? Share your story by leaving a comment below.

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