How to Develop an Impactful Youth Engagement Program

How to Develop an Impactful Youth Engagement Program


“There is no better way to engage youth in city hall or state capitol than to make it a first-hand experience.” – Councilmember Jay Schenirer, City of Sacramento

To empower youth, local agency leaders must seek out creative solutions and activities that provide meaningful experiences for young people that respect their lived experiences, values and perspective.

Examples of activities or experiences that can lead to empowered youth may include:

Civics education and engagement activities:

  • Attending board/council meetings
  • Volunteering
  • Providing voter education
  • Hosting voter registration activities
  • Leading service-learning projects
  • Advocating for policy change
  • Serving as a youth representative on municipal boards/commissions or councils
  • Researching needs of their neighborhoods and greater community

Career exposure and work-based learning experiences:

  • Job-readiness training, including basic work habits
  • Exposure to speakers with diverse skills and backgrounds employed across a variety of municipal departments and agencies
  • In-person tours of municipal agencies to view facilities and meet people working in municipal government
  • Job shadows in areas of interest
  • Internships and apprenticeships
  • Staff mentors that support students with guidance around career, civic engagement and academic success

Develop leadership skills, including:

  • Time management, perseverance and self-direction
  • Understanding one’s role and responsibilities
  • Communication in the workplace
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Thinking critically
  • Problem-solving and decision-making
  • Negotiating through challenges
  • Adapting to new experiences
  • Maintaining a positive attitude
  • Respecting diverse opinions

Reaching out to young people through trusted partners, like school staff, parents, guardians, and community-based organizations is critical to reaching a broad mix of youth and educating them about local agency programs.

To develop this toolkit, we sought out expert insights from youth development professionals, marketing experts and community partners about the best strategies for engaging youth. Here are some key insights about the diverse needs and priorities of youth aged 12-24:

  • Youth want to participate and be involved
  • Youth are concerned about their future and support systems
  • Most care about how other people perceive them

Many youth are hyper-focused on gathering and sharing information via social media

  • Youth enjoy reviewing content and creating content to share
  • Most young people prefer to receive new, fresh and timely content that is delivered in real-time

Tips for engaging with young people:

  • Engage with authenticity and honor agreements
  • Engage “with” not “at”; seek to learn from as well as share information
  • Engage through new technology platforms but do so authentically in an appropriate voice
  • Engage on all topics, do not shy away from difficult subjects
  • Engage respectfully and do not talk down to younger participants