The Youth-Led, Peer-Driven Approach through the Eyes of an 18 Year Old

By Nicole Carrillo, Youth Advisory Council member on July 28, 2016

Some believe that young people are a lost cause. If an event or activity doesn’t include technology or similar attractions, youth can’t be counted on to participate. Well, if that is the attitude of the organizers, it will be true. Teenagers can tell where and when they are wanted. I believe that’s the reason so few adolescents participate in things that would be beneficial to them. The people trying to reach teens have data, education, money, and sponsors on their minds, which leaves little room for thinking like a teenager.

The summer of my sophomore year I took an internship at Building Healthy Futures (BHF) to help design and implement a club that focused on obesity prevention in my school. We planned to take a youth-led, peer-driven approach from day one. Our high school had a reputation for low participation in events. We knew that to achieve something great, something had to change. We needed to put youth in charge.

Overcoming Challenges

The first year of the club—named Healthy Huskies after our mascot—was full of challenges, but also a lot of fun times. We found a small group of passionate students and focused them on making our presence known in the school. Still, we faced difficulties, such as trying to work with students’ busy schedules. Competing with work, classes, sports, and other after school clubs made it hard to involve many of my peers. We knew that we had to change the way our club was integrated in the school in order to make a bigger impact. So, we joined the Student Council as an official committee.

Support from the Student Council allowed us to focus on bigger events and ideas, like a Color Run. It was something new, something exciting, and something that could bring the entire school together. The Color Run changed everything. It was entirely organized by students, with help from school staff and BHF. The goal for the run was to have 100 participants from not just our school, but also from the local middle schools and the surrounding community. Students advertised the event at their workplaces, with family members, in district communications, and through word of mouth. Registration was available at the school and online, and on the day of the run we had doubled our goal. With more than 200 registrants, it was clear that Healthy Huskies had made a change.

We felt empowered, important, and above everything, we felt heard.

I believe that the Color Run was such a success because young people were the primary organizers and promoters of the event. This is not to say that the adult staff isn’t appreciated. In fact, they did most of the heavy lifting and were there every step of the way helping us to make it the best event possible. But what’s important is that our ideas were listened to and made a reality.

The Color Run affected the lives, however small, of more than 200 people. An event like this is not easy to pull off, but it was achieved by youth. This is not a one-time ordeal for us, either. Once teens get a taste of leadership, they will not let it go. They will use that and keep working. They will benefit the community in a valuable way. With the right opportunities, teens can make an incredible difference.

I know this is true because I’m a teenager that was given amazing opportunities through organizations like the School-Based Health Alliance and Building Healthy Futures. I will always be grateful for their focus on the youth-led, peer-driven approach. I know there are other teens out there looking for the same opportunities that I had and I believe that, with your help, those teens can receive that opportunity as well.