Involving young people in your community group
Community groups at any level are often keen to make sure they are representative of their own communities and membership base but often overlook one of the great recruiting grounds for volunteers and community-conscious people who are prepared to work hard to bring about change – our youth.
While some community leaders are sometimes dubious about bringing young people into the leadership loop, the benefits of attracting them to your cause are many. As well as energy, enthusiasm, creativity and time, young people generally are often better able to adapt and embrace change. They also know how your group can be more relevant to people in their own age group.
Engaging the services and support of young people can also go a long way to ensuring the future of your organisation. If you are not recruiting the next generation of leaders and interested persons, then it is very likely that your cause/organisation will end when its current members move on.
It is also about helping to prepare the next generation of leaders; although anyone that has worked closely with young people who are prepared to stand up and get involved in local community groups finds the learning is definitely a two-way street. Often young people will challenge traditional ways of operating – and often with good reason, if the methods of operation haven't evolved while the local circumstances and the marketplace has.
It is important in engaging younger people in your group that they are treated with respect and as equals among adults. There is no point inviting young people to sit on your Board or Committee, only to dismiss their views or refuse to give them with the same weight as those of more experienced or older Committee members. Young people should have an equal say/equal vote on community issues.
And, if your organisation provides services to young people, then it is absolutely imperative that they are represented at the top level and are involved in the planning process and have input in determining the most relevant policies and solutions. As many organisations have discovered, the best solutions are to be found when all stakeholders have some ownership of the issue, the solution and the method in which the solution is applied. On most occasions, the best people to ask about what interests, attracts and motivates other young people are young people themselves.
Why should you involve young people in your community group?Apart from anything else, you want to interest the next generation of concerned citizens about your organisation and its relevance to the local community.
There are also significant advantages of having young people on board right now, including:
What do you need to be aware of?Involving young people in a community group brings with it certain responsibilities. An organisation has a duty of care to its younger members (as everyone) to ensure the environment is a safe one.
When enlisting the help of young people you also need to ensure your organisational procedures accommodate youth involvement. You might need to incorporate more flexible working conditions to suit their needs, or modify your training programs so they do not feel like they are stuck in a school-type environment.
A community group also needs to qualify why they need more young people and how they can best utilise their skills. Young people need to feel like their contribution is worthwhile, otherwise there is little point in them being there. If you are asking them to take on a position of responsibility, then give them the responsibility – don't make it a pseudo position.
Some tips when recruiting young people:
How do you attract younger volunteers?Once the decision has been made to recruit younger people and your Board/Committee is committed to making your organisation – and leadership roles – more accessible to younger people, start from your own organisation and work out in wider circles. Start with people who know about your group and your work and explain why you need them – and why working with you would help to achieve their own community goals and needs.
Ask yourself: why would a young person want to be involved in our group? You might need to:
How do you keep young people involved?To maintain youth involvement, there must be support for both getting more young people involved with your group and in getting them involved in leadership positions. Your community group might need to look at both structural change and cultural change. But for most groups, keeping young people keen, enthusiastic, involved and dedicated is little different than maintaining a strong volunteer program.
Most people leave groups or become disenchanted when there is poor organisation, poor supervision, or where they feel they are left to do unsatisfying or unsuitable jobs.
And like any other volunteer, young people need to be confident their contribution is not a token one and that it is recognised and appreciated. To ensure this occurs groups can:
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