Building Group Support
The yearly Youth Advocacy Program curriculum begins with team building and training in strategic story sharing. This training is rooted in the same ideologies that the Casey Family Programs outlines and helps youth advocates develop tools they can use when they feel like they might be losing control over their own story. The Youth Advocacy Program curriculum is structured in this way to respect the comfort level of program participants. We understand many youth advocates have not openly shared their experiences with such a large group before. Therefore, our first goal is to build a community of trust and acceptance where members feel comfortable talking about their lived experiences.
This level of trust is built through:
- Community agreements
- Ice breakers
- Vision boards
- Opportunities for people to share when they want to share
- Opportunities for youth advocates to work in small groups and pairs
- Whole group check-ins to gauge everyone’s current mood and state of mind
- Open communication about what works and does not work during weekly workshops
Youth advocates often share that their group becomes a form of friendship and family where they can relate to others in ways they have never been able to before.
Implications for Group Development
Program staff are trained to support each youth advocates’ individual development, but they are also trained to respond to challenging dynamics, or unexpected issues and situations that arise during workshops. Through a series of ice breakers, team building exercises, guest speakers, and training, staff can see where a youth advocate might flourish and where they might need more support. Over the course of their three years with the program, staff can see the difference in the young person’s development. Tasks that may have taken them a few weeks can later be accomplished in one week. Someone who may have been shy to participate in an ice breaker is now speaking in front of an audience of 50 people. Youth may also learn conflict resolution skills, and learn overtime to openly discuss and seek support from staff to resolve group challenges. These developments can occur when staff provide individualized support, when youth feel a sense of community from the group, and see their own personal growth.
Conducting Skills Workshops
Over the past few years, youth advocates identified the need for general skill-based workshops. Two of the most requested workshops were budgeting and resume building. These workshops were then developed by program staff. The resume building workshop encouraged ongoing support of youth advocates by staff outside of the program as many youth advocates wanted to keep working with the staff members who supported the development of their resumes beyond the workshop. Workshops can vary based on the needs of the young people each year. Many youth advocates have expressed a desire to have workshops on mindfulness, exercise, educational planning (especially when you have bills to pay and family to care for), applying for health care, preparing for court, and advocating for yourself in court. Many of the topic areas program staff have implemented and brought in community partners to provide skills building training based on youth identified interests and needs.
It is likely that if one young person needs help with something, many more need similar support.