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Youth Engagement is defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as providing the opportunity for young people to gain the ability and authority to make decisions that help improve the policy environment, change social norms and reduce smoking initiation and consumption in their communities. In 2004, VFHY launched its youth volunteer program, Y Street, to engage youth in changing tobacco use norms. Over the years, Y Street has evolved constantly to adopt the most cost effective strategies that engage the largest numbers of youth. In addition, when the Virginia legislature asked VFHY to tackle childhood obesity prevention in 2009, Y Street was the first VFHY program to step up by expanding its scope to include both tobacco-use and childhood obesity prevention.
Today, Y Street is one of the nation’s largest and most efficient youth engagement programs, each year training more than 600 new high school students, who, combined with youth trained in prior years, complete more than 1,500 tobacco and obesity prevention projects annually. Y Street’s efficiency is due to the Outcome Oriented Youth Engagement (OOYE) model. Rescue Social Change Group, VFHY’s contractor, pioneered OOYE in 2009 based on years of lessons learned. Today, the OOYE model has been successfully replicated in several states.
OOYE simplifies how youth are engaged in changing their environment. First, campaigns are created that focus on clear, short-term goals, such as educating adults about clean indoor air or the benefits of physical education in public schools. Then, Measures of Progress (MOPs) are created for each campaign. MOPs are tangible outcomes that document incremental steps towards the campaign’s goals, such as testimonials, surveys, message cards, etc. Then, youth volunteers develop events and projects that focus on the completion of these MOPs. Youth are empowered to produce any kind of project or event, allowing them to be creative while at the same time focusing all youth efforts on the overall campaign outcomes. In addition, MOPs help youth volunteers measure the impact of their projects, which keeps them motivated and encourages them to create more effective strategies.
As MOPs build up, Y Street youth volunteers are able to fight for policy changes, such as adding more physical education classes in public schools, preventing tobacco products from being advertised to youth, etc. Through this process, Y Street youth have completed more than 50,000 MOPs, leading to results such as reports on Virginian’s opinions of clean indoor air or motivating pop singer Kelly Clarkson to drop tobacco sponsorship of one of her concerts. Y Street youth volunteers have even been invited to testify before the FDA and to participate in press conferences with the governor of Virginia and the U.S. Surgeon General. They also meet with key government and community leaders to share the opinions and knowledge they have gathered from their community projects.