All too often adults view young teens as problems they have to deal with. We found our teens to be the exact opposite. Our teens were problem solvers that just needed support. They are eager to improve their communities and they have great ideas. We just needed to equip them with the space and tools to put those ideas into action.
One way we supported our young teens was by identifying middle and high school student groups that had shown interest in peer leadership– such as student councils or honor societies. We sent our prevention manager in to meet with those groups—she trained each group on dating violence issues, and helped them identify how they wanted to work on those issues at their school. Each group chose an area of focus specifically based on what was happening at their school. They then developed a creative campaign around that issue and worked to execute it.
We also built a leadership development program into The Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble. We realized early on in working with the Ensemble that we didn’t want to lose the talented and dedicated youth that we had recruited each year, so we developed ways for them to stay involved. After students had performed for over a year, we offered them the chance to become peer mentors to new Ensemble members. Over time, we gave them other responsibilities, like facilitating group exercises and planning performances. This pipeline has allowed us to retain our student leaders, and made the Ensemble in to something not just for youth, but also led and directed by them.